A conversation with Brad Keyes sparked the following question:
Does showing up to and winning a mountain bike race in a small town in Colorado make Lance Armstrong a sandbagger?
Yes: He is a 7-time Tour de France winner, World Champion, former Olympian, etc. He hardly needs an introduction, right? He turns up at the Leadville 100 (with an informal team no less) and smokes the field, beating his nearest competitor by nearly 30 minutes. Why? What is left to prove for him? That he can rip the legs off of a bunch of full time dad’s, accountants, sales reps, and other various cubicle pushers all riding in the biggest race of their lives? What, returning to the pinnacle of professional road racing this summer was not enough for Lance? No, apparently it was not enough. In fact, he had to take a jab at all those shlubs who have worked all summer long in hopes of crossing that finish line in under 9 hours:
“I can see myself being here when I’m 50 finishing in 9 hours (laughter), beating Carmichael’s ass.”
Oh. Right. Way to take a bit of shine out of all those new belt buckles.
On the other hand…
No: Indeed, Lance is one of the best bike riders of any era. But last year he raced at Leadville, and lost to Dave Wiens*, who is, obviously, no slouch himself. The race was close and competitive and quite entertaining to watch, from afar. In 2009 Lance came back in better shape, and with a better idea how to race the Leadville 100. Something I am sure every repeat rider hopes to accomplish. He rode over 60 miles alone (so much for that informal team) in difficult conditions. He earned the victory fair and square, and I’d argue that all those riders who chased him for 100 miles are better off for doing so. After all, competition breeds excellence, right?
*At the 2007 Vapor Trail 125 Dave manned the aid station that we all came through right after sunrise. He was cooking omelets for us. He fed me, lubed my chain, and sent me on my way, feeling like a million bucks. It was, in a geeky sort of way, one of the coolest moments for me on a bike. (Oh, and he is a father of twins, like Lance. And me. And Fatty.)
There has to be a certain cache´ to racing against Lance. I’d like to do it, just to, you know, say that I did. It must be the same feeling I have had in several solo events when Tinker Juarez, Chris Eatough, Nat Ross, and several other heavy hitters in the MTB world are standing next to me on the start line. It was, of course, as close as I ever was to them during the race, unless you count the multiple times they lapped me. Which, um, I do.
But back to the pertinent question. Sandbagger? Maybe. Just a little. I can certainly think of other races that a current podium TdF finisher would be lining up for that are more important, and more competitive (for him) than the Leadville 100. But then, who cares? In one of those weak “it’s good for the sport” cliche’s, I think what Lance has done at Leadville is, well, good for the sport.
Who knows, maybe next year he can join all the TdF doping convicts at the Tour of Utah. I jest! I love the ToU. Really, I do. Calm down. Deep breath. It. Was. A. Joke. All right good, glad we cleared that up.
Exit Question: Lance, sandbagger?