Lance Armstrong is set to race in the Leadville Trail 100 on Saturday, a grueling 100-mile race in the Rockies of 1,000 mountain bike riders that left Floyd Landis battered and bleeding last year.
Armstrong's appearance in the 15th annual Race Across the Sky is the "'hugest' thing that's happened to Leadville since we discovered gold," proclaimed Ken Chlouber, the race's co-founder. "The whole town is buzzing and we are way beyond excited."
But Armstrong, who has turned his competitive juices to running marathons since his retirement from competitive cycling three years ago, cautioned that nobody should expect him to cross the finish line first.
The favorite, he said, has to be Dave Wiens, who beat Landis by two minutes last year to win his fifth straight title in a record time of 6 hours, 58 minutes, 47 seconds.
"A race like this takes a lot of experience and endurance. He has that. So, I guess he's the odds-on favorite," Armstrong said Wednesday. "I would reiterate that I'll be happy if I'm Top 5. I don't think I'm in it to win it, as they say."
Armstrong hasn't finished a competitive bike race since winning his seventh straight Tour de France in 2005. Earlier this year, he dropped out of the "Miles of DisComfort" mountain bike race in the Texas hill country after 43 miles, nine miles shy of the finish.
Wiens suggested Armstrong was either setting him up or selling himself short.
"I don't think Lance does anything on a lark. I think he'll be prepared," Wiens told The Associated Press. "I don't know how prepared Floyd was last year. What I'm saying is, if we were equally prepared, I just can't see where those guys wouldn't pummel me."
Chlouber said it's Wiens who was the one being modest.
"Dave Wiens is super human. He's just as fantastic on mountain bikes as Lance Armstrong is on road bikes," Chlouber said.
"Everyone's talking about Lance and me," Wiens said. "But there's a dozen other guys capable of winning."
That's because Landis' presence last year raised the race's profile, attracting other elite athletes such as Armstrong, he said.
The race begins at the old mining town of Leadville with 1,000 riders making the 50-mile out-and-back trek in one of the country's toughest single-day races. It starts at 10,500 feet and climbs to more than 14,000 feet.
"I fully expect to get beat up," Armstrong said.
Armstrong's longtime personal cycling coach, Chris Carmichael, is signed up for Saturday's race again and hopes to beat his personal best time of just over nine hours.
"I don't know if I can beat Wiens, but I'm 100 percent sure I can beat Carmichael," Armstrong said. "I will be home, showered and probably three beers in by the time Carmichael gets back."
Armstrong said he doesn't have any plans for any more bike races down the road.
A survivor of testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, Armstrong spends much of his time tending to his Livestrong foundation dedicated to healthy living and fighting cancer.
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