Steve Jobs won’t be pleased. I failed to convert Lance Armstrong to the iPhone. The world’s most famous cyclist was warming up on a static bike next to his team bus in a parking lot in Las Vegas and was taking the opportunity to do some texting on his Blackberry.
Maybe the SMS was to Bill Clinton? Lance had been with him that morning at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York. It was at this meeting that the seven times Tour de France winner had officially announced his return to cycling, and revealed the ramping up of his cancer charity efforts.
As a recent convert to the cult of the Mac mobile I tried to iProselytise the Texan. Would he not prefer an iPhone, I asked.
“No, I like my Blackberry too much. You can’t type with the iPhone, the keys are too fiddly.”
This kind of pre-race small talk is unusual for Lance. Once in ‘the zone’, he’s generally monosyllabic.
Tonight, he was chatty. He was full of smiles. He was starting his comeback on a floodlit grass-and-dust soccer field, six miles from the Las Vegas strip, but he wasn’t in it to win it. He hadn’t even shaved his legs for the occasion.
“I just love racing my bike,” he said.
The next day it would be confirmed he was going to be riding for the Kazakh team Astana. Tonight he was in Livestrong livery, black and yellow kit to publicise his cancer charity. He might not have been planning on being a contender in his comeback race but he was in good shape, not an ounce of excess fat on his skinny frame. His yellow wristband – the rubber charity bracelet that spawned them all – was loose.
He was about to ride CrossVegas, the second running of a cyclo-cross race timed to coincide with Interbike, the annual North American trade show for bicycles. Cyclo-cross is a winter sport, associated with ice-crusted mud and beered-up spectators.
Event sponsor Dale’s Pale Ale lubricated the CrossVegas spectators but the City of Lost Wages doesn’t do winter. The thick and matted grass at the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex is sewn into the dusty ground, the night was hot, mud but a dream.
I asked Lance how many cyclo-cross races he had ever done.
Then he looked me in the eye, and mock fiercely, said: “Un…de…feated.”
It wasn’t to be three in a row for Lance. He had just got off a jet from New York an hour before the race and isn’t a born CXer so his 22nd position was respectable. The 15,000 spectators had cheered his every passing lap as if he was in the lead. The prodigal son had returned.
I was at Interbike to oggle the bicycles but had smuggled myself on to the start list for CrossVegas a couple of weeks previously, long before it was known Lance would make a place on the start sheet such a big deal.
CR pic by Dan Ellmore.
I rode in the Wheelers and Dealers event, for industry whippets: people like Dave Lawrence of Shimano, Gary Erickson of Clif Bar and Ben Capron of Specialized.
I’m no whippet, but I felt like one for the night. Jake Heilbron, the owner of Kona Bicycles, supplied me with a 2009 Jake the Snake. I had a team trailer hang-out, a team mechanic to switch my brakes around (why do Americans insist on operating the front brake via the left lever?), and a team fridge from which I could snaffle as much Snapple as I wanted.
I was adequately hydrated on a boiling hot night, but I wasn’t a terribly impressive member of Team Kona. I shan’t be getting a pro contract any time soon. In short, I sucked. I came 79th out of 98 riders, although I was third in the media category. (There were four journalists riding).
A glass half-full scan of the nationalities of the starters revealed my chance for cycling glory. For the rest of my born days I will be able to brag I was the fastest British finisher in my race on the famous night when Lance Armstrong kick-started his comeback. OK, I was the only British entrant, but I’m not always strong on details.
That’s clearly the book Greg Lemond would like to write.
It’s now all over the web that there were fireworks in this morning’s Lance Armstrong press conference.
Greg Lemond gave Armstrong a grilling. And, unwittingly, I helped him on his way.
I got to the press conference early and bagged prime position, right at the front centre. However, Lance was running late and I had an Interbike TV show to run off and host. I got up to go to the back of the room. Guess who jumped into my seat? Yep, Mr. Lemond.
Lemond didn’t gatecrash the press conference, he had asked Lance’s agent if he could attend (Lemond is now a journalist?). Lance let him and was ready when Lemond asked the first – and most incendiary – question of the conference.
This pic shows the media scrum and Lemond sitting in my recently vacated chair. Can you spot David ‘Fredcast‘ Bernstein live-blogging the events as they unfolded? Recognise any others? How about Ed Pavelka of Roadbikerider.com?
I got a chance to talk to Lance Armstrong by the Trek caravan at tonight’s CrossVegas event in Las Vegas.
I asked him how many cyclo-cross races he’d ever done. “Two,” he said. Then he looked me in the eye, and mock fiercely, said: “Undefeated.”
His third race didn’t go well. He was well down on the leaders, but this wasn’t his natural terrain and he wasn’t expected to cream the opposition.
The eventual winner was my ‘team-mate’ Ryan Trebon. I was an honorary Kona rider for the night. Jake Heilbron – co-founder of Kona – had hooked me up with a Jake the Snake to ride. Team mechanic Mark Matson even switched the brakes the right way round for me.
Not that this helped much. I got round the Wheelers and Dealers event, but only just.
Interbike über-PR stars Rich Kelly and Uwe Weissflog found me looking dazed and confused a short while after the race and kindly gave me a VIP pass for the rest of the evening. It was Rich who discovered Lance was warming up by the Trek tent and we headed off that way.
Lance was totally relaxed and friendly, a million miles from his usual ‘race character’. He was out for some fun. For once, winning was the most important thing.
Here are my favourite shots from the night. The rest of my pix can be be found on this Flickr set.
Slight fuzz, but not totally clean shaven.
This great shot above was taken by Lindsay Thomson from the Interbike team.
I promised this security guard I’d publish his pic.