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Countdown To Kona: Solitary Confinement (2004)

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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place five days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 2004 and the year the bike became the most important leg of the race. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.

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It was a Thursday night in September. Three-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion Peter Reid is in a cabin by himself at 6,000 feet up on Mauna Kea. No television, no computer, no radio, no distractions. For a few weeks each September, Reid disappears. He leaves his home in Victoria, British Columbia and heads to Kona to be a hermit, for what he calls solitary confinement.

The air is still. In the distance Reid hears a muffled explosion that brings him to his feet. The next explosion sounds even closer. Is the Big Island under attack? What the heck is going on? The noise ceases, and it becomes deathly quiet once again. Eventually Reid falls asleep.

He drives the 50 minutes to the pool the next morning and asks around before the workout.

“What the heck was going on last night?”

Calmly, one of the locals fills him in.

“Thursday night is bomb night at the military base,” says the stranger causally. “It happens every week.”

How appropriate. A few weeks later, this time on a blustery Saturday, Reid and his Iron-compatriots would be bombed into submission by uber cyclist Normann Stadler of Germany, who systematically destroyed the field. By the time he dismounted and started the marathon that day, Rid heard that Stadler’s lead was an unbelievable 24 minutes and 10 seconds.

Stadler was on Alii Drive a few miles into the run. Since no officials were on the course giving splits, he had been flying blind since the bike turnaround in Hawi. At that point, he knew he had a substantial over Reid, Tim DeBoom, Simon Lessing, Faris Al-Sultan, Luke Bell and the others.

“When someone told me that my lead was 15 minutes on second place and 22 minutes on Peter, I thought that I did a short course’ that I must have missed a turn,” laughs Stadler.

Reed had thought Stadler would gain 10-12 minutes by the end of the ride, just like the top cyclists had done in the past years, and Reid would run him down, just like last year. Stadler led off the bike in 2003 before dropping to fourth during the run.

Stadler had spent six weeks in San Diego training hard, watching his diet and staying away from chocolate – all for this day. The nigh before the race, the decision had been made that no officials would be on the course giving any of the athletes splits. If Stadler could get a gap, there was a chance that the chase group would stay with Reid and DeBoom rather than go after him.

And that’s exactly what happened. With the number one on his chest and three wins on his resume, Reid was the obvious target. Why would anyone in the chase pack want to get away from Peter Reid? The guy has a good chance to win and is the defending champion. Chase Stadler? Why? Reid knows what he’s doing. We’ll say right here. Plus, with the wind in their faces all day long, the ride was hard enough without trying to play Super Hero and go off the front.

From 90 miles to the finish of the ride, the chase pack tends to let up to get ready for the daunting task of running 26.2 miles in the middle of the day sauna-like conditions. Stadler knew that if he pushed that last 20 miles, he could really add to his lead and, maybe, just maybe, win the Ironman on the bike.

On the run, Reid saw Stadler coming out of the Natural Energy Lab with about six miles to go and still thought he had a chance.

“Normann looked good, but not great,” remembers Reid.

“If he walked one mile, I’d be right there. I kept fighting the whole way.”

Stadler saw that he still had 17 minutes on Reid coming out of the Natural Energy Lab. Reid out split Stadler 2:46:10 to 2:57:53 in the marathon and cut the lead to 10:11 by the end.

But it was too little, too late.