That Viral 2018 Race that Foreshadowed Sam Laidlow’s Ironman Championship Win

Remember reading about "a young pro who ran four miles uphill without shoes on the bike leg to finish?" That was a then-unknown Sam Laidlow. Read about the viral 2018 race that set the stage for his world championship win five years later.

Photo: Brad Kaminski/Triathlete

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There’s a lot of chatter about Sam Laidlow these days – and rightfully so, given his extraordinary win at the men’s 2023 Ironman World Championship last weekend. But Laidlow’s success is no overnight sensation. In fact, a 2018 Triathlete article about Laidlow serves as a perfect example of the hard work, perseverance, and champion’s mindset that was clearly present from the very beginning.

The article, titled “This Pro Ran 4 Miles Uphill Sans Shoes with His Bike to Finish” was our first introduction to Laidlow, who was 19 years old at the time. At the 2018 International Triathlon of Cannes – just down the road from Nice, France, where Laidlow would later claim his title – the young pro lined up against the likes of Spain’s Javier Gómez (yes, that Javier Gómez, of Olympic, ITU, XTERRA, and 70.3 fame) for a 2K swim, 107K bike, and 16K run.

Impressively, the young Laidlow was in the mix for the swim and first 50K of the bike leg – well on his way to achieving his modest goal of placing in the top 10 or 15 at the race. Given what we know now about Laidlow’s ability to bike the legs off of a competitive field that includes pro cyclist-turned-triathlete Cam Wurf and iron-distance record-breaker Magnus Ditlev, this isn’t surprising (and in hindsight, modern-day Laidlow probably wants to send 19-year-old Laidlow a message: Dream bigger than top ten, kid.) But it’s what happened next that really got people talking.

First, his saddle came loose and dropped, causing Laidlow to spend a significant amount of time pedaling in an uncomfortable position. Still, he was able to power through the climbs of the race, eventually reeling in Gómez at the front.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said after the race. “I told myself I had to get the most out of it. It wasn’t a question of only waiting behind, so I just carried on at my pace and did 50 kilometers on the front with Gómez just behind the draft legal limit.”

But on the last climb, with 27 kilometers to T2, Laidlow’s rear derailleur snapped off and went straight into his spokes, rendering his bike unridable. The wheel was completely blocked, so pushing it wasn’t even an option.

So what did the young pro do? Picked his bike and carried it up the mountain.

“I had to run up the last col (about 6 kilometers), and then I realized I had to find a way to get the wheel to turn if I wanted to finish it,” Laidlow said. “So after having kind of fixed that, I freewheeled down for 10 kilometers and then pushed the bike for a further 11 kilometers to T2.”

Laidlow placed last at the event. Some pros may have been discouraged by the result, but not Laidlow, who used it to fuel his fire and later become the youngest male Ironman World Champion at the age of 24.

After the race in Cannes, Laidlow said he was motivated by his family and friends:

“The main reason is because a lot of people put a lot of support into me: my family, my club, and my friends. There are also a lot of sacrifices I made, and I didn’t want to quit straight away. My dad drove me all the way up to Cannes and he coaches me every day and the same for my club. There were 19 of us, and I was the only pro and wanted to do well for the club (Poissy Triathlon).”

This echoes the sentiment Laidlow expressed in his emotional post-race interview with Triathlete after winning the Ironman World Championship in Nice. “My family and I have worked my whole life for this,” he told us in the interview. “I’ve invested so much, I’ve sacrificed so much.”

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