Lance Armstrong takes aim on Leadville race Saturday
Summit County Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
LEADVILLE, Colorado ” When Lance Armstrong trudges up a dirt road toward the Columbine Mine Saturday morning in the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, it will be a much different experience than any of his seven Tour de France titles.
That’s not because the Leadville 100 is considered to be one of the hardest single-day mountain bike races in the country, or even because of the course’s extreme elevation.
Instead, it’s the finish to the 100-mile race that may turn out to be something Armstrong just isn’t very used to.
“I am not in it to win it,” Armstrong said Wednesday night. “I would be happy with top five.”
Though Armstrong’s goals may seem extremely modest for a man considered by many to be the best cyclist of all time, the buzz that his participation has created for the race, which starts at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, has gotten organizers riled up.
“This is the biggest thing to happen to Leadville since we discovered gold,” race co-founder and former state Sen. Ken Chlouber said.
While Armstrong is widely recognized as one of the greatest cyclists ever, all of his accomplishments have come on a road bike rather than a mountain bike.
“They are really two totally different sports,” said Armstrong, who has opted for a lighter bike with 26-inch wheels for this weekend. ” … The way you pedal is even different. … I would actually say that mountain biking is closer to running than it is to road biking.”
Fortunately for Armstrong, he has competed, and done pretty well, in a number of national marathons.
His training regimen to prepare for the Leadville 100 has consisted of a much more diversified approach than during his days on the Tour. Armstrong said that he does a combination of running, biking and gym workouts.
The most important part of his preparation, however, was getting acclimated to the elevation of the Rockies, as Saturday’s race will reach its peak at 12,600 feet.
“I’m not sure that anyone feels good at 12-and-a-half thousand (feet),” he said. “I do feel better than the first week I was here, though.”
Armstrong has been training for the Leadville 100 for roughly five to six weeks, he said, and has been in Aspen for the past two.
He regularly visits Aspen with his three children, which is one reason that led to him jumping back on the bike this week.
“I considered doing this last year, but my conditioning just wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said. “I’ve been spending time in Aspen and thought that it would be fun.”
While most retired athletes enjoy spending the majority of their time swatting golf balls or trolling a fishing lure from a boat, Armstrong has preferred much more difficult endeavors.
“I have done things that most people would view as hard, like marathons or [the] Leadville ,” he said.
Other than the fact that Armstrong has not completed in a bike race since his last Tour win in 2005 ” he entered a 50-mile bike ride in Austin, Texas, about six months ago but did not finish ” the main obstacle in his way of pulling off the victory this weekend may be five-time defending champion David Weins of Gunnison.
“He is definitely the favorite,” Armstrong said. “He has [the experience].”
Last year, Weins set the race record with his time of six hours, 58 minutes and 46 seconds. It was the first time anyone had broken seven hours.
Of course, last year Weins was pushed by Floyd Landis and beat the deposed Tour champion by a mere two minutes. Landis is not entered in this year’s race.
It has been a very long time since Armstrong last competed without being a lock for the podium, but he does feel that, if he has a good day, he could be in the top-three.
Fans’ expectations may be high, but Armstrong knows better going into one of the toughest tests of a biker’s mettle in the United States.
“I fully expect to get beat up,” he said.
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