Lance Armstrong charged up Fanny Hill on his mountain bike as if this were the Pyrenees.
This, however, was the inaugural 12 Hours of Snowmass race. But if Armstrong has his way it won't be too long before he's in the Pyrenees again, bidding for an eighth Tour de France crown.
Armstrong recently announced his intention of riding in the Tour in 2009. The 36-year-old cancer survivor is gearing up with races such as this one.
"We're just getting it going now," said Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's longtime coach. "For the next few months, it's just about riding, spending as much time on the bike as he can."
Armstrong was part of a three-man team Sunday _ named Livestrong after his foundation _ that also includes Max Taam and Len Zanni. Each takes a lap and then switches off. The winning team completes the most laps in 12 hours.
Team Livestrong won over Team Beaver Creek with both teams completing 17 laps, but Livestrong finished about 6:39 faster.
Carmichael said Armstrong is returning after careful consideration.
"He fell in love with bike racing again," Carmichael said. "This is the life he knows, the world he knows."
Can he win an eighth title?
"I wouldn't bet against him," Carmichael said. "There's only one Lance. There's no one who has the intensity, the perseverance, the dedication."
Carmichael said Armstrong has contacted the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about designing a blood test specifically for him to erase any doubts about doping.
"I know he's clean. He's never doped and never will dope," Carmichael said. "The problem with performances these days _ anytime an athlete does something exceptional, everybody looks at it as suspect. ... If Lance comes back and wins the Tour and has absolute transparency in drug testing and people are then still speculating, they're either ignorant or jealous."
Taylor Phinney, fresh off his first Olympics, cheered Armstrong from the side of the mountain trail as he sat on his bike. He was invited to train with Armstrong for a few days.
"He wanted to take me under his wing, which is super cool for me," Phinney said. "I'm just up here learning as much as I can. He's the godfather of cycling."
Phinney says Armstrong is just what the Tour needs.
"There wasn't anybody who took control and was the clear winner of the Tour," he said. "What Lance did every year, he just destroyed everybody and made it clear that he was the guy. I think he's still got it. I'm excited to see what happens."
Now he just needs to find a team. Last week, cycling journal VeloNews reported on its Web site that Armstrong would compete with the Astana team in the Tour.
But there are no guarantees Astana will race in the 2009 Tour. Race officials kept the team out this year because of previous doping violations.
"It's still getting put together," Carmichael said. "That (Astana) is looking like the best one."
Armstrong was second to Jay Henry of Team Beaver Creek on his first run through the course Sunday, but later turned in the fastest time on his second pass.
Afterward, he sat for a brief break, a crowd gathering to snap photos. He then hopped up, got back on his bike and rode to a hotel to rest before his next turn.
The race started under chilly conditions, about 38 degrees at the base and 20 degrees up at the summit, with frost on the ground.
Armstrong was wearing No. 7 _ to represent his Tour titles _ and his Livestrong jersey as he rode his Trek mountain bike.
"It's a little surreal," Henry said of lining up next to Armstrong at the start line. "Obviously, he's amazing."
Armstrong arrived in Snowmass Village on Saturday after spending time in Canada as part of a cancer fundraising ride. He was all business Sunday, riding with Henry on the first leg of the race. Henry thought about engaging Armstrong in conversation, but didn't have the wind or energy.
"I was going a little harder than chatting pace," Henry said. "I hope he was. But you never know. It's great to have him out here. It's great for mountain biking."
Last month, Armstrong pushed six-time defending champion Dave Wiens to a record time in the Race Across the Sky, a lung-burning 100-mile mountain bike race through the Rockies.
"I love competing against him," said Wiens, also of Team Beaver Creek. "It's always a great time."
It also stoked Armstrong's competitive fires after three years of retirement.
"He said, 'What if we keep going after Leadville?'" Carmichael said. "I'm like, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'How about the Tour?' I was like, 'Are you kidding?' ... Each day it got a little clearer _ this is real."
His mountain bikers Sunday were elated to have him on the mountain.
"It's fun to race in our backyard against such a high caliber of athlete," said Wade Newsome, who's from nearby Carbondale, Colo. "When you're out there with greatness, it elevates your game."
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