LEADVILLE — The king is dead. Long live the king.
Strong live the king may be more like it, as Livestrong Foundation
founder, cancer survivor and seven-time
Tour de France champion
Lance Armstrong turned in a record time of 6 hours, 28 minutes and 50.9
seconds to unseat six-time defending
Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race champion Dave Wiens on Saturday.
It was the first time Wiens, who is from Gunnison, failed to win the race
he has owned since first entering in 2003. Both men won their respective age
categories in a record field that featured nearly 1,300 competitors. Rebecca
Rusch of Ketchum, Idaho, was the top woman in 8:14:53.7.
Armstrong, 37, shattered the former record of 6:45:46 established by Wiens,
44, in 2008. The riders swapped positions in the overall standings this year,
with Wiens finishing in 6:57.02 in a race that set out at a blistering pace
beneath freshly snow-dusted peaks.
"There were probably six or seven guys on the way out, then guys just kept
dropping off," Armstrong said. "So I sort of had to decide what to do: if you
wait for other guys or if you just sort of go for the rest of race by
yourself. It was a little risky to do that. In the end you're wasted, but I
rolled the dice a little bit. Plus, I was freezing."
Driven by the cold, wet conditions hovering below 40 degrees at the
10,200-foot starting line in downtown Leadville, Armstrong set out on his
sunrise mission with the help of Durango racers Matt Shriver, Ben Sonntag and
Travis Brown, speedy riders sent by bike sponsor Trek in support of
Armstrong's record attempt.
The pacers pulled a group of half a dozen out to the base of the daunting
3,200-foot climb from Twin Lakes to the Columbine Mine at 12,600 feet, where
Armstrong took charge just before the race's 50-mile mark. He opened a gap of
more than 12 minutes over Wiens at the turnaround of the out-and-back course,
stretching the lead until suffering a flat tire less than 10 miles from the
Armstrong finished the race on the slowly leaking rear wheel, adding
minutes to his goal of less than six hours.
"I don't normally change flats. I call up the car and they change it —
that's how it works in road cycling," Armstrong said. "Changing a tire is the
most embarrassing thing ever for me. . . . I didn't want to have to be in
that position, so I just put some more air in it."
Wiens faced a similar scenario a year ago, when he rode across the finish
line on a flat wheel less than two minutes ahead of Armstrong. This time, the
early pace took too great a toll on the defending champion to close the gap.
"It killed me," Wiens said. "This will be a memorable race for me because
I was saying to myself, 'This is athletic suicide, for me to be with these
guys. Why am I up here? I hope these other guys are hurting as bad. I know
Lance is probably feeling pretty comfortable, but if (Sonntag) can hold this
pace the entire way through then he's a superhuman guy.' But I had a feeling
he was going to be cooked, and he was."
Shriver managed to finish third overall in 7:09:48.5, first in the 20-29
division. But as the final 65 miles evolved into what amounted to an off-road
time trial, even Armstrong admitted he was battered by the raw conditions and
unrelenting pace of the high-altitude race that includes 14,000 feet of
"My favorite part of the race was finishing. I really, really was glad to
be finished. I was dead," said Armstrong, adding that he was more nervous for
this race than he was for his return to the Tour de France after a three-year
absence. "I told the guys at the finish that I don't ever want to come back
here. . . . But I'll come back next year. I can see being here at age 50 and
finishing in nine hours."
It will take at least five more years for Armstrong to match Wiens' legacy
As for any budding rivalry between the racers, however, it isn't emanating
from the Wiens' camp.
"Streaks are meant to be ended and records are meant to be broken and both
of those things happened today. And I think it's fantastic," Wiens said.
"That's what sports are all about."
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993 or firstname.lastname@example.org