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40 Stories – Normann Stadler – 2005

Some of the greatest moments at the IRONMAN World Championship are not what you would expect. They are not about a great victory.

They are about the ideal being stripped away and the raw soul of human emotion being untethered and exposed to the world. This type of unnerving pressure of a race gone bad struck Normann Stadler just one year after his dominant victory in 2004.

He was a game changer. Normann Stadler did what no one in the modern era of IRONMAN had been able to do. He won the race with a bike ride that was like dynamite blowing up every other competitor who followed. In 2004 on a horrendously difficult windy day he posted a 4:37:58 bike split. Eventual second place finisher Peter Reid came into transition with a split of 5:01:38. The next fastest bike was almost 15-minutes slower than the champion Stadler.

In 2004 Stadler crushed the bike and then held steady on the run for a great victory on a very tough day.

From that year forward no one was going to take the bike for granted. Every second gained could mean victory. Stadler had proved how potent a great ride could be.

So coming into the 2005 IRONMAN you would have thought Normann would be completely focused on prepping all aspects of his weapon. But that was not the case.

“First of all you know how it is to win IRONMAN Hawaii…It’s a relief! It took me 16-years to win that race. But things changed immediately after that amazing victory. Everyone wanted a piece of me…and that was great. But those demands distracted me from doing the homework for the big dance in October.”
“I was lucky and strong enough to win the 2005 IRONMAN Frankfurt for the first time against Cameron Brown, who was the main guy to beat in Hawaii. Things looked good and prep was also “OK” but not like the year before.”
“I trained in San Diego, but it was different. I was no longer flying under the radar. I’d become the guy to beat. I knew I’d need more, but the other things were getting in the way. There was the German media, sponsors, new products, fancy custom paint jobs for my bike. Yes that is all part the game but I knew that there was a question mark in my prep.”

In 2004 Normann Stadler took care of every detail. In 2005 he passed a lot of the technical preparation off to others in an attempt to accommodate the added interest and demands of being a defending champion.

He had a local bike shop glue his tubular tires onto the rims, a job he normally oversaw or did himself. Gluing on a tubular is an art. There has to be enough glue to keep the tire from rolling off the rim in a corner, but not so much that if a flat happens you couldn’t quickly peal the tire off and put a spare on. Normann would find out in the heat of competition that the job had been done with too much enthusiasm on the amount of glue used.

A great competitor who became distracted by commitments and lost the focus on real prep.

Normann Stadler, the defending champion, got a flat. That should not have been a lethal blow to his quest to defend his title. With his strength as a cyclist it should have just been about a minute delay in the jet propelled pace he was holding. But it wasn’t.

I tried to get the tire off the rim with my fingers, my teeth, a little pores opened and I was sweating like a...I saw my main competitors riding by and my brain was killing me. The flat needed to be fixed, but I couldn’t even really focus. I was just standing there watching my rivals ride on down the road!”  
“Nothing worked and the neutral support car was somewhere else. It took forever for them to find me. The world media was there and they got great pics and videos while I was having a melt down in the lava fields. I was not prepared for that and I knew the outcome.”
“Finally the tech car came and they handed me a 36-spoke training wheel. I could not belief that the guy in the tech car was the same guy who glued my tires in the shop! “How much glue did you use!”

He finally charged back out onto the course. But the IRONMAN World Championship can have a way of playing ground hog day with you. It can throw the exact same challenge at you over and over, like a nightmare that you just cannot shake.

Normann Stadler, the defending IRONMAN World Champion was humbled into a situation that the IRONMAN in Hawaii has a way of getting us all into. It’s one where we have to deal with the completely unexpected. He inconceivably got a second flat. And this one proved to be the one that makes this a 40-Greatest Moments at IRONMAN.

The second flat stole the foundation out from underneath Stadler’s ability to override the disaster signals. It was one too many on a day with great expectations. The pressure on a returning champion is only partially self-induced. It also comes from a massive base of sudden support that was not there the year before.

Normann Stadler felt the expectations of a nation following him. He saw the cameras recording his every breath and drop of sweat on race day. But he is an experienced competitor and he knew what that second flat meant. There would be no second IRONMAN World Championship that day. He summed it up this way:

“This was a very personal emotional moment for me that the world was going to see. I spent thousands of hours to get to the start line in 2005. But because of a flat…everything was gone. It was MY fault that I couldn’t get the tire off. It was MY fault that I couldn’t fix the flat. I was too busy to get my bike race ready. I chose to do all the crazy media and sponsor things before the race.
“Normally I always knew what was going on with my bike. But in 2005 I was just to busy to keep an eye on those simple but critically important details.”
“I was standing in the lava fields and cried.”

“You have to understand that I am a very emotional guy. I’d experienced winning the race and how it feels to cross THIS finish line first. I was away from home for months, without my partner, my family, friends.”
“I was standing their with that second flat knowing I would not earn prize money or bonuses from my sponsors. There would be no award ceremony where I would have the chance to share a great IRONMAN experience with everyone who had raced. There would be no good memories. I was just empty inside.”
“ut you know what…I watched the awards and I swore that I would come back and win Hawaii in 2006.”

And that he did. Normann Stadler won the second of two titles that next year. Which is another reason why 2005 was a crowning moment in IRONMAN history. And that’s because it’s so much more difficult to pick up the pieces and pull yourself together after disaster than it is to come back with the momentum of a great race propelling you forward.

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