Leadville 100 continues without Lance Armstrong | VailDaily.com

Leadville 100 continues without Lance Armstrong

Arnie Stapleton
AP Sports Writer

Lance Armstrong and Dave Wiens, left, kick off the inaugural LIVESTRONG Ride 4 Yellow mountain bike event in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010. AP Photo/Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp, Larry Pierce) ** NO SALES **

LEADVILLE – Co-founder Ken Chlouber is holding out hope that Lance Armstrong will change his mind and ride in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race that he won in record time last year.

“I’ve got a place for him right on the front row. He’s No. 1,” Chlouber said. “I want him to come back and defend his title. I think he’ll be here. If you just want my upfront bet, I’d bet you that he’s going to be here.”

Armstrong spokesman Mark Higgins said Tuesday that the cyclist was skipping this year’s “Race Across the Sky” because he’s still feeling lingering effects of a hip injury suffered in a crash early in the Tour de France. He said Armstrong also wants to spend time with his family before his children begin school.

With or without Armstrong, the lineup of more than 1,500 riders features more pro riders than ever. And even if Armstrong does show up for Saturday’s race, Chlouber won’t pick him to win it again.

“I’m picking Dave Wiens,” Chlouber said. “Dave has been in the office a couple of times. He left the bike that he beat Floyd Landis with in ’07 and that he beat Lance Armstrong with in ’08. I’m telling you, Dave looks good.”

Wiens, who briefly considered retirement after finishing second in last year’s race, won the nation’s highest altitude endurance test six straight times from 2003-08 before Armstrong dethroned him.

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The race starts at 10,500 feet and climbs 2,000 more feet. Armstrong won last year in a record time of 6 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds. Wiens finished almost a half-hour later – a year after holding off the seven-time Tour de France champ by about two minutes.

Armstrong also has been dealing with renewed questions about drug use during his career since ex-teammate Landis made allegations against him and other riders this spring. Federal investigators have been looking at lawsuits containing old accusations against Armstrong and have reached out to question his sponsors.

Chlouber said it would be good for Armstrong to race in Leadville after his disappointing farewell at the Tour de France, where he quickly fell out of contention after a series of crashes.

“This race isn’t about Lance,” Chlouber said. “But we’d love to have him here. I think at this point it would be damn good for Lance to show up because he’s special. He’s a tough guy and he just needs to get back on the horse. I don’t think (the federal probe) bothers Lance one bit. He’s just down a little bit from not being right at the top of the Tour.”

Chlouber’s holding out hope of an Armstrong entry because he said Armstrong looked fit last weekend when he rode the course with fellow pro cyclist Jeremy “JHK” Horgan-Kobelski of Boulder.

Chlouber said Armstrong’s RadioShack teammate, Levi Leipheimer, will compete in the race, his first ever on a mountain bike.

Other pros among the field include: Horgan-Kobelski’s 2008 Olympic mountain bike teammate Todd Wells of Durango; mountain bike World Cup rider Burry Stander from South Africa, European mountain bike champion Alban Lakata from Austria and American distance specialist Jeremiah Bishop of Virginia, Chlouber said.

Armstrong’s entry two years ago boosted the popularity of the race that began in 1994 as a complement to the 100-mile foot race founded by Chlouber in 1983.

The course includes wide dirt stretches that accommodate road-racing tactics and also single-tracks climbing 14,000 vertical feet at elevations ranging from 9,000 to 12,500 feet at the Columbine Mine turnaround.

There is no prize money, just silver belt buckles for finishing under the 12-hour time limit – about a third of the field falls short every year – and silver and gold belt buckles for completing the course in nine hours or less.

In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month, Armstrong said he hoped to be in shape to participate in the race.

“The allure of it is it’s really freakishly hard because of distance, the course, the amount of climbing and almost the whole race is above 10,000 feet,” Armstrong said. “It makes for a really long, hard day. It’s a cool event because you literally see every single person in the race.

“I go by the guy (on the way down) that is in last place. And you see him and he says, ‘Hey, man. Good luck.’ And he’s cheering for you, you’re cheering for him. It’s a very cool setup.”