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Steve Larsen Photo gallery

Written by: Timothy Carlson
Added: Fri May 22 2009

When Larsen tore through the field ‘like a rocket’

In 2000, Steve Larsen was devastated to miss the US men’s Olympic mountain biking team. The two-time NORBA national champion (including the Olympic year 2000 – showing that Larsen was arguably the top US mountain biker) and former Motorola road cycling teammate of Lance Armstrong teammate was a fierce, proud competitor and the ultimate professional, so he did not take the verdict lightly.

But with Larsen’s talent and drive, the old phrase “When one door closes, another opens” isn’t just an empty bromide. In 2001, he took up triathlon with a ferocity that no other pure biker has ever done and changed the paradigms of the sport.

He opened 2001 by smashing the Wildflower bike course record of Jurgen Zack with a 2:14:06 mark that lasted until 2008 when Chris Lieto shaded it by a mere six seconds. Even more impressive, Larsen took fourth overall, not far behind record setting performances by Chris McCormack and Craig Walton. Next, Larsen blasted to an overall win over a tough field that included Chris Legh, Cam Widoff and Mike Pigg with a course record 3:55:57 at the Half Vineman. Of course he scored a course record 2:07:31 bike, but what was scary given his ever so brief run training was his hang tough 1:14:42 split for the half marathon. Next, in order to qualify for Kona, he smashed the bike course record of Thomas Hellriegel with a 4:33:23 at the tough, hilly Ironman lake Placid – outpacing Ryan Bolton by 25 minutes -- and closed his 8:33:11 race with a 2:56:53 marathon that marked him as a threat for the podium at Ironman Hawaii.

Before the race, with talk of sensational Ironman Hawaii rookie Steve Larsen capable of riding 4:15, German star Normann Stadler stated at the pre-race press conference: “IF he gets by us….” Fellow German überbiker Jürgen Zäck scoffed at predictions that Larsen could overcome a 10 minute deficit after the swim by the turnaround at Hawi. “There is a lot of talking in the media, but it’s wishful thinking,” said Zäck. “They want an American to be the dominator on the bike and get a 10 minute lead. It’s not gonna happen.”

Cut to the day of truth. “I had a very bad moment,” said Stadler. “I thought I had no legs. I was riding at 35 kilometers per hour into those winds and he passed me like a rocket.” Did anyone put up a fight? “No,’ said Larsen.

Consoling Larsen after his decline to 9th on the run, six-time champion Mark Allen said “You finished on a day when there were dead bodies left and right – the most top names that have dropped out here -- ever.” The hall of shame included Peter Reid, Luc Van Lierde, Spencer Smith, Zäck, Tony DeBoom and more. Chris McCormack, on a scouting mission for 2002, said: “Steve Larsen had a lot to do with it – the pressure he applied to everyone’s pre-race game plan.”

Larsen wanted to shake up the old paradigm that strong runners sat in on the bike and waited. Mission accomplished. By Mile 95, he slashed past the final tri-veteran. Tellingly, the gap was five minutes just 17 miles later at T2. His 4:33:32 bike split on the worst day of winds in Kona history was 11:47 faster than next-best Stadler.
Larsen started out at 6:30-per-mile for the first six miles, putting a minute on Stadler and Reid, but dropping three minutes to DeBoom. Larsen finally faded in the heat with unforeseen nutrition problems. . “I’ve never had trouble with heat before this,” said Larsen as he took a post-race dip off Kailua pier. “But my stomach shut down on Palani Road. After that, I was proud just to finish.” Larsen surrendered to DeBoom at Mile 11, then closed with a 3:19:09. “I think I affected the outcome of the race and I’m proud I laid it all down on the bike,” said Larsen. “Those guys that passed me on the run earned it.”


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