They’re calling him the ‘King of the Foothills’, but judging by Lance Armstrong’s opening shot at a comeback in Nevada City at the weekend, the great Tour de France champion still has what it takes.
Armstrong took part in the town’s Bicycle Classic, a 90-minute circuit race that has never attracted so many spectators (20,000 and counting) in its entire history.
The seven times Tour champion lapped all but five of the 130 riders and even won a $50 prize during the race, a small incentive for winning a designated lap during the event.
The event, which featured Armstrong and his two Astana team-mates, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, was widely seen as a mini-tune up for Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France, which begins on July 4.
He completed the 40 lap race in 1 hour, 28 minutes and 20 seconds, sprinting away from the peloton with about six laps to go on the hilly course. The seven-turn route travelled up and down steep hills, making it one of the more challenging single-day cycling races in the country.
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Team Bissell) finished second, 21 seconds behind. Three-time Tour of California winner Leipheimer finished third, 22 seconds behind. In the early laps of the race, which includes a short, steep climb each lap and a blistering descent of Broad Street where riders reach 50 mph, Leipheimer did much of the work in the lead, with Armstrong drafting and preserving his strength.
It didn't take long for scores of lesser riders to pop off the back, unable to keep pace for even a lap or two. In no time, Leipheimer, Armstrong and one or two others were well in front.
“What a great race”, he commented after the victory. “It was hard. And the crowds? Electric. The last celebration lap, people were running in the streets. This definitely makes my father’s day.”
Armstrong returned afterwards to Aspen, Colorado for his last training sessions with coach Chris Carmichael before the Tour.