Armstrong favored in his second Leadville 100 race |

Armstrong favored in his second Leadville 100 race

Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press
-- File -- In this file photograph taken Aug. 9, 2008, Dave Wiens (1) rides in a pack with Lance Armstrong, second from right, in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bicycle race near Leadville, Colo. Weins and Armstrong will face off again along with 1,400 other riders when the race takes place on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Mateo Leyba,file)
AP | CODEN The Denver Post

LEADVILLE, Colo. – Dave Wiens, the six-time defending champion of the grueling Leadville 100 mountain bike endurance test, takes little solace in having held off Lance Armstrong at least year’s “Race Across the Sky.”

Armstrong wasn’t in top shape last year but he is now, having taken third place in his return to the Tour de France, which he won a record seven times, and smoking the field in a pro cross-country race near his home in Aspen this month.

“I felt like last year it was at least a fair fight,” Wiens said. “This year he’s so much more fit it’s scary because he’s coming off the Tour de France, where he was amazing, and he’s been riding his mountain bike a ton. He’s coming into Leadville with his best fitness. He’s got one of the best physiologies on the planet and then he’s highly trained. He’s had time to recover from the Tour. I expect him to be in amazing condition.”

Last year, Armstrong pushed Wiens to a record time in Leadville’s lung-searing 100-mile mountain bike race through the Rockies but faded toward the end and finished about two minutes behind Wiens’ winning time of 6 hours, 45 minutes, 45 seconds.

That was an astounding 13 minutes faster than the year before, when Wiens held off another big name, Floyd Landis.

Armstrong and Wiens raced together for 90 miles in the grueling test of lung-burning climbs and tough technical descents, the latter half of that by themselves, taking turns leading the way.

With 10 miles left, however, Armstrong told Wiens to go on ahead because he was cooked.

Wiens begged him to keep up so they could have an all-bets-off sprint to the finish line, but Armstrong, who wasn’t quite ready to win a seven-hour ride after three years away from competitive cycling, just couldn’t keep up.

“Lance could have killed me if it came down to a sprint,” said Wiens, who had nonetheless hoped the two could battle it out to the end in the old tiny mining town of Leadville, where race co-founder Ken Chlouber had said Armstrong’s entry in the race was the biggest news in these parts since the gold boom of 1860.

Armstrong pushed Wiens like nobody ever had. After the race, Wiens acknowledged that Armstrong wasn’t the same competitor he had been back when he was coasting down the Champs-Elysees and tipping back a victory flask of champagne.

But it’s a much different Armstrong that’s favored Saturday.

“I’d be so happy if I’m still with him at the 90-mile mark this year,” Wiens said. “I’ll throw my hands up like I just won the race.”

Wiens said it would be presumptuous of him to even think he’d still be alongside Armstrong at that point.

“I expect he could try to drop me on the Power Line (climb). He could what we call ‘ride me off his wheel’ if he wanted to,” Wiens said. “That’s when you realize that if you keep trying to keep up, you’re going to just die. He could do that early in the race.

“Or there could be a larger group that breaks away, and that makes it harder, too.”

Mountain bike races are a bit more unpredictable than road races because if an elite rider is having a tough time, he can’t hide in the pack and get through it.

Wiens, 44, of Gunnison, said he could have called it quits after beating Armstrong last year, “but when Lance talked about coming back again in 2009, I didn’t feel it was right to bail. I could have gone out on top but that’s not what drives me. It’s the journey all year to get to this race.”

The country’s highest-altitude bicycle race, which is sponsored by Lifetime Fitness, begins at Leadville at 6:30 a.m. with 1,400 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.

Armstrong, and before him, Landis, have raised the race’s profile. Their attendance has attracted other professional mountain bikers, including Tinker Juarez and Travis Brown this year, although most of the field is amateur.

For the first time in its 27-year history, the 12-hour race will be streamed live on a Webcast.

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