Lance strong-arms local field |

Lance strong-arms local field

Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesSeven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong nears the finish of Wednesday evening's local mountain bike race in the Hunter Creek Valley. Armstong recently announced he is coming out of retirement to race in the 2009 Tour de France.

ASPEN, Colorado ” The comeback of the year began on a winding jeep road, against a field of Aspen real estate agents, waiters, bike-shop mechanics, soccer moms and wide-eyed retirees.

Appropriately, Lance Armstrong wore a yellow jersey.

A day after the world found out that the seven-time Tour de France winner is returning to professional cycling, Armstrong got back to racing ” and winning.

A new homeowner in the area, Armstrong said the decision to enter Wednesday night’s Smuggler-Hunter Creek race ” the local cycling club’s mountain biking season finale ” was just him doing what Aspen locals do.

“I always try to do local events,” he said of the race, which wound up Smuggler Mountain Road and through the scenic Hunter Creek Valley. “Even in Austin [Texas], they have a little weekly series, and I try to go out and do that. Pretty much it was, ‘We’re here. It’s great mountain biking.'”

Wednesday’s race was just the first of two local mountain bike contests Armstong has on his training docket. He said he planned to compete on a three-man team in Sunday’s inaugural 12 Hours of Snowmass, a race that benefits two valley nonprofit youth organizations.

Coming off a second-place finish at last month’s Leadville Trail 100, Armstrong looked fit Wednesday night, cruising to a win in the top men’s division in a little more than 58 minutes. The makeshift finish line was in a tranquil mountain meadow dotted with rusted, old mining cabins. Near dusk, Armstrong came into view on a patch of singletrack that snaked through waving wheatgrass. He was greeted by a race official holding a hand timer and a smattering of cheering locals.

The 36-year-old Texan confirmed that his decision to come out of retirement was brought on by how much he enjoyed training for the Leadville Trail 100, which was a little- known race outside the historic mining town before Armstrong and former teammate Floyd Landis raced in the past two editions. ( Landis did the race in 2007 before Armstrong this year; each finished second to Gunnison’s Dave Wiens.)

“The process of training for it and getting ready for it was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be,” Armstrong said. ” It’s safe to say it lit the fire.”

Armstrong was reluctant to give out the details of his comeback before a scheduled press conference in New York on Sept. 24 at the Clinton Global Initiative. But he did say he wasn’t coming back to “reclaim some glory.”

The main reason he decided to give up the frills of retirement and submit himself to the punishing grind of top-tier professional cycling, he said, was because he felt it was the best way to bring about global change in the fight against cancer.

“It would be nice obviously to be successful, but the mission is to launch an international cancer plan,” said Armstrong, who famously beat testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain after a grim diagnosis in 1996. “That’s the No. 1 objective. The best way to do that is to race all around the world. We were successful in Texas, we were successful in the U.S. The next logical step is try to take it globally.”

He mentioned Europe, Australia, India and other points around the globe where he hoped the appearance of him on a bike could could help spawn change, hinting at a tour much bigger than the world’s most famous bike race in France.

“All the places that we go, we hope to have collaboration with governments there, local and regional,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 objective. We’ll see how successful our initiative is, but our ambition is that it will be successful. Our ambition is that we’ll have participation from the other countries.”

He said he was happy that the secret of his return was finally out, because his three children ” 8-year-old son Luke and 6-year-old twin daughters Isabelle and Grace ” were having a hard time not telling friends at school.

“They did a good job for 6- and 8-year-olds,” he said. “They’ve known for a while. They saw the paper today and they were relieved.”

Armstrong has already raised nearly $300 million to fight cancer, a disease that will kill some 8 million people worldwide this year. Since retiring, he’s also become a bit of a tabloid fixture for his high-profile romances with the likes of Sheryl Crow and Kate Hudson, another celebrity with ties to Aspen.

Armstrong said his decision to purchase a home in Aspen came about because he fell in love with the town and its residents during visits over the years.

“I love it here,” he said. “It’s a lot of things. The training is really good, the people are very cool and pretty relaxed. They leave you alone. Everybody is fit and cares about their lifestyle and they’re healthy and like to be outdoors and fish or hike or run or ride on the road, so I’ve found it to be a really cool community.”

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