Lance Armstrong returned to the Leadville 100 mtb bike race and simply crushed both his competition and the course. Not only did he set a course record by seventeen minutes(6:28), but he beat his nearest competitor by over twenty eight minutes(6:57). If there was ever any doubt that Lance could ride a mountain bike, no one is expressing any concerns after Saturday's race.
While many have claimed that Lance's amazing second place in last year's Leadville 100 was the impetus for his comeback, at the Tour this year, his coach, Chris Carmichael told me that Lance let Chris know about his comeback on July 22nd of 2008, over three weeks before the Leadville race. Regardless of the date and reason for Lance's comeback, the fact remains, the man is back and he is flying.
Lance used his new digs in Aspen as a training base for the Leadville 100; he was very clear in his goals for the race, win and set a new course record. Last year, he was a close second to David Wiens who set the then course record of six hours, forty five minutes(6:45). This year, Wiens was there to defend his title as was racing legend Tinker Juarez and a strong contingent of strong riders from Aspen and the Colorado front range.
There was pre-race talk that Lance would use pacers, much like in a running race on the track, to attempt to set the course record, but a cold rain which forced Wiens to stop and put on a jacket and a mechanical for Tinker Juarez saw Lance go solo for the last 60 miles of the 100 mile event.
This is a high-altitude race like no other. It starts at 10,000', climbs to a high point of over 12,000' and never drops below 9000'. Not only does a competitor need to be acclimated to the altitude, but any weather, like a good old Rocky Mountain thunderstorm, at this height almost certainly means that it will be cold.
Lance's next race is on some skinnier tires. He will lead Team Astana in the Tour of Ireland which starts on Friday.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with Lance 3.0. Who is Lance 3.0 you might ask? Lance 1.0 is Lance Armstrong's early years most notably when he was a professional for the Motorola Cycling team. Lance 1.0 was a pretty good version. He won a World Road Championship, a $1,000,000 three-race trifecta including a US Professional road championship, two stages of the Tour de France, the Belgian Classic Fleche Wallone and totally dominated a couple of Tour DuPonts. Lance 1.0 could ride a bike both here and in Europe.
Lance 2.0 is the post-cancer Lance. All he did the second time around was to win seven consecutive Tours de France. Lance 2.0 was probably an improvement over Lance 1.0, especially if you had a big screen TV and a lot of free time during the month of July.
Lance 3.0 is the current Lance Armstrong. The comeback Lance. Lance 3.0 seems a lot more relaxed and outwardly having fun. It's like this time around he is playing with the house's money. Lance 2.0 proved he could ride a bike. Lance 3.0 is proving that he can have fun riding a bike as well. That's not to say that Lance 1.0 and 2.0 wasn't having fun riding his bike, its just that Lance 3.0 seems to be having more fun.
Which brings us to the San Diego Air and Space Technology Low Speed Wind Tunnel and Lance 3.0's testing session there yesterday. I attended the session as one of a handful of journalists and got to see Big Tex, well, Lance 3.0, in his first time riding against artificial air in almost four years.
One thing that was abundantly clear, Lance 3.0 is pretty darn fit. Keep in mind that this is only November and the serious racing doesn't begin for at least 3.5 months, but Lance 3.0 is on a mission. And his long-time coach Chris Carmichael indicated that his prodigy is as motivated and dedicated as he has ever been.
But, the real question has to be is Lance 3.0 an improvement over Lance 2.0? I don't think that Lance 3.0 is going to win eight consecutive Tours, but if he is having more fun this time around and has found a new level of enjoyment riding the bike then it's no contest.
ps - you can read my report on Lance at the wind tunnel on cyclingnews.com at:
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