Armstrong has a blast in Snowmass |

Armstrong has a blast in Snowmass

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

SNOWMASS – As a competitor sped past her during Saturday’s Blast the Mass cross-county race, a women’s pro rider motioned to a group of spectators.

“That’s Lance!” she yelled, forcing a grin between labored pedal strokes.

“Go get him!” someone replied.

Good luck.

On a warm, clear day at Snowmass, no one could keep pace with Lance Armstrong. Not the scores of fans who tried to chase him up Fanny Hill after the first and final laps. Not a field of accomplished pros.

Armstrong surged to the front on the first ascent and built a three-minute lead over Mountain States Cup cross-country points leader Jay Henry of Avon after one loop. He cruised to victory, covering nearly 23 miles and 4,700 vertical feet in 1 hour, 51 minutes, 18 seconds.

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Henry, 3:08 off Armstrong’s pace, settled for second. Carbondale’s Len Zanni (1:57:16) finished third.

Add another title to Armstrong’s staggering list of accomplishments: State champion. With a spirited crowd clamoring for photographs, the part-time Aspen resident shed his usual yellow and black ensemble for the Colorado winner’s blue jersey when he climbed to the top of the podium – 13 days after finishing third at the Tour de France.

“Not bad for a Texan,” Armstrong joked afterward. “I expected to make some big mistake … like go over the handlebars or do something careless. … Everything flowed well. But I still kept looking back. I always do.”

He likely saw little more than blue skies and empty singletrack. Henry said he lost sight of Armstrong on the opening climb, no more than 25 minutes after the start.

“We were together on the first road climb, then went around a corner and he was gone. I thought he turned around.” Henry added. “I was looking up a couple switchbacks and didn’t see him.

“At some point, he just put in an acceleration and was gone. I wish I could’ve seen it.”

Fans saw little of the leader, too. Those crowding the start/finish area caught a fleeting glimpse of Armstrong as, with the whir of his tires scurrying across gravel and a faint cloud of dust filling the air, he sped past.

“The first lap, I was going medium-hard but conservative. The second lap I felt it,” Armstrong said. “I probably went harder on the first lap than I should have, but I wanted to get a gap in case Jay came back on me … I didn’t know what to expect. We started off for our teams at the 12 Hours of Snowmass last year … and he smoked me pretty good. I was worried about that.”

There was no need to be concerned.

“Man, he’s riding fast,” Henry said. “That first climb looked effortless. … There was no way I was going to catch him.”

“Someone like me, I don’t change the way I race [because Armstrong is in the field],” added Zanni, who rode the course with Armstrong on Tuesday and was the cancer survivor’s teammate at the 12 Hours of Snowmass last September. “I tried to settle in and ride my own race. … At the top of the first climb, I was already several minutes back. It was good to see him flying and having a great day.”

After a quick glance over his right shoulder, Armstrong slowed and knocked his yellow sunglasses off his head down the final straightaway (they were quickly snatched off the trail by a beaming young admirer). Then, he pedaled to the finish to complete the compelling victory.

“I’m not surprised,” Henry said, “but very impressed.”

Not a bad result for a man who hopped on his mountain bike last weekend for the first time in nearly a year.

“I’ve been feeling good and had a good week,” Armstrong said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have raced. It’s too short and too hard.”

Fans were excited to see Armstrong in the field. He was more than happy to oblige the droves of well-wishers and autograph seekers who mobbed him at the foot of the stage stairs moments after the awards ceremony.

So were his closest competitors.

“Having him here just adds to a great day,” Zanni said. “If helps expose people to mountain bike racing, to the [Mountain States] Cup and to Snowmass, I think it’s great.”

“It’s awesome to see him out here,” Henry added. “It draws so many people out here. It makes mountain bike racing a little more exciting.

“I wish he would come to more.”

In late July, Mayor Mick Ireland suggested that Aspen draw up a proclamation and give Lance Armstrong his own day to celebrate the part-time resident’s athletic accomplishments and strides in the fight against cancer.

While Ireland has since softened his stance, the entire community has taken a side in subsequent weeks. Letters to the editor continue to filter in, and everyone, it seems, is willing to offer an opinion on the matter.

Everyone but the man at the center of the local debate. At least until Saturday.

“Honestly, I kind of had a lot of press attention at the Tour, and I love being back in Aspen and I love being fairly anonymous,” Armstrong said after winning the Blast the Mass pro cross-country race in Snowmass. “That’s the reason I didn’t go to New York and do morning shows … and late-night shows.

“I like to be the dude who lives in the West End that nobody knows about.”

– Jon Maletz

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