Lance presents chance to beat the unbeatable
December 14, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoIf Michael Jordan showed up at your local 3-on-3 basketball tournament, what would you do? Would you gawk and stare? Would you shake his hand? Or would you seize your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and take the ball so damn hard to the hole that His Airness had no choice but to defend you like it was his playground, not yours.This is the question facing the 750 or so mountain bikers who will compete in next summer’s Leadville Trail 100 race, which the mighty Lance Armstrong has decided to enter. For many in the field, the dilemma brings a simple answer: Unless you wish to end your 100-mile race before it ever begins, you would be a fool to attack the seven-time Tour de France winner in a two-wheeled competition of any kind, even on an off-road bike at high altitude.For the group of elite riders led by four-time defending champ Dave Wiens, however, Armstrong’s expected presence at next summer’s race offers a rare challenge. This is their chance to compete with a legend, a sporting icon – a chance to beat the unbeatable cyclist.And so the question on everyone’s mind is simple: Will Armstrong be beaten? Will he put his reputation on the line at a badass Colorado race and go home humbled by one of the Rockies’ famously low-profile aerobic mutants?We won’t know until August, of course, but the local riders who flock to this race had plenty to say on the topic when queried recently.
For starters, it’s agreed that Armstrong’s finish place will depend on how seriously he takes the competition – if he trains for it like he trained for the Tour, and if he makes an effort to get to know the course and get used to the altitude, “He’ll win,” said Leadville resident Bruce Kelly, 54, a seven-time LT 100 finisher and bike shop owner. “I just don’t see him being beaten.”Kelly’s opinion is shared by many, with good reason. Armstrong represents the closest thing to an invincible human that modern society has produced. Even if he doesn’t preride the course multiple times and spend three weeks in Leadville to acclimatize, you don’t have to dig for reasons why he’d win anyway.Nevertheless, there are also folks with opinions like that of 59-year-old Summit resident Dennis Kaiser, a four-time LT 100 finisher who makes no mistake about it: “I’m a big Lance Armstrong fan.””But in my honest opinion,” Kaiser said, “I would doubt that he could beat Dave Wiens. It’s about the conditioning, but it’s also about mountain bike handling skills, too. … Dave Wiens is a god out there. I just can’t believe Lance’s mountain bike skills are as good as Dave Wiens’.”Kaiser added, “Now could Lance get second or third in that race? You bet.”Wiens is a 42-year-old former World Cup racer and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member who lives in Gunnison. Few names in the history of American fat-tire racing exist on the same plane as Wiens, who began competing in 1986 and has raced against Armstrong a handful of times before, including once when Armstrong was a teenager in Texas and another time at a mountain bike stage race in Steamboat about seven years ago.
“There’s a lot of thought out there that Lance is not a mountain biker and he struggles with technical riding, but those are misnomers,” Wiens said when reached by phone Thursday morning. “Lance is a fine off-road rider.””He certainly has all the tools to do well at Leadville and possibly win the race,” Wiens said.The Gunnison racer, who is seven years older than Armstrong, acknowledged that “people might be making this into me against Lance.”But, he added, “If I were going to make my list of the top 50 guys who might come to Leadville and kick my butt, Lance would be on the list but he wouldn’t be at the top.”Because the LT 100 field is determined by lottery (Leadville residents are exempt) and the size is limited to about 750 racers, there is no chance Armstrong’s presence on course will turn the competition into a circus. However, it has made getting in to the race exponentially more competitive than in prior years.Lee Gelman, a two-time finisher from Frisco, said he sent out an e-mail to all his biking buddies encouraging them to enter simply because Armstrong will be there. And Casey Puntenney, last year’s top Leadville finisher, said he expects up to 30 Cloud City residents to take advantage of their lottery exemption and sign up, in contrast to the last two years when only a handful of hometowners competed.
Even Mike Kloser, a fat-tire racing luminary and MTB Hall of Famer from Vail who has never taken part in the LT 100, is thinking about registering this year – though he says it would be “more about racing alongside Lance” than trying to beat him.The internet message boards are not the only forums filling up with speculation and anticipation of where Armstrong will finish. Puntenney, an unsponsored machine who vaulted into Leadville lore two years ago when he took 15th in the LT 100 despite never having entered an endurance race, said he’s already feeling pressure from local friends to beat Armstrong. Someone even posted a note on a photo of Armstrong that hangs in a local coffee shop; it read, “Casey, I’m coming for you.””I’m definitely going to try to beat 8 hours, but I don’t know if beating Lance will be a possibility,” said the 25-year-old restaurant chef, whose best time is 8:01:13.The race’s four-time defending champion also is looking at the competition through a realistic lens, which means he considers himself an underdog.”Lance on his best day, Dave Wiens on his best day, I don’t even see Lance after a little bit,” Wiens said. “I mean, the guy crushed the Tour de France, he crushed the best guys in the world.”But that’s why we’re gonna go line up and race.”
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