A record crowd of 138,000 Aussies flocked to Adelaide's Rymill Park to welcome Lance Armstrong back to the peloton in the Cancer Council Classic, a prelude to the 2009 Tour Down Under. The introduction of the 37 year old Texan was greeted by a deafening roar, with fans of all ages clamouring for a glimpse of a cycling legend.
The 30 lap criterium, which covered a total distance of 51 kilometres, was never going to be one for Armstrong to stamp his authority on. Rather it was a race for sprinters as three time Tour de France sprint champion Robbie McEwen triumphed for his new team Katusha.
"It was a tough criterium", Said Armstrong, "and I found it safer and a little easier in the back. It's fun to get back in there (but) it will probably take a while and I need to get more power and do some more hills.
"I was a little nervous in the corners. The sun was going down and you had the sun really in your eyes, but after that, it was fine.
"I felt good, I've trained a lot for this comeback, I've trained a lot for this race. I'm glad the first day is over and now we can get into the race and maybe relax a little bit more.
"There was a lot of anxiety before today," admitted Armstrong. "It's not my style (of racing), but I enjoyed it.
Armstrong finished in the pack in 64th place, 23 seconds behind McEwen. The riders have monday off before the Tour Down Under, the first UCI ProTour event of the year, kicks off in Adelaide on Tuesday.
"We’ve got win number one so we’re the happiest team, here at the moment," said McEwen. Of Armstrong: "He looked OK, I went and said, ‘G’Day’ to him somewhere in the first 10 laps of the race, and he was glad to be there. I said to him, ‘welcome back’ and he was cruising, just trying to stay out of trouble. He said, I’d give you a handshake, but I don’t want to take my hands off the bars... first race back.
"I love coming to this race, and when you’ve got all these people cheering for you, it does give you a little bit extra," continued McEwen. "It’s been written, ‘Getting old, this and that’... but I’ve just done my thing, done my training and here I am ... first, that’s all that matters."
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.