By James Huang in Snowmass, Colorado
Lance Armstrong, Max Taam and Len Zanni, riding as Team Livestrong, won the 12 Hours of Snowmass last Sunday, beating endurance racing juggernauts Dave Wiens, Mike Kloser and Jay Henry of Team Beaver Creek for the men's team title.
The 12 Hours of Snowmass was the next stop for Lance Armstrong's return to competitive cycling, over an unusual 12-hour race format that included no nighttime riding; the gun went off just after dawn at 7:00 am and competition wrapped up by 7:00 pm.
Race organizer Nat Ross couldn't have wished for better conditions. The morning brought crystal clear skies, a near-ideal forecast of 15°C (58°F) and the clean air and stunning views offered by the course's near-3,000m (10,000ft) high point. Not that any of the contenders had time to notice, though.
The course was just 11km (7miles) long but included over 450m (1500ft) of climbing, nearly all of which was in the first 5km (3miles). Even then, racers were afforded little respite on the technical middle third before bombing back down to the start/finish area.
Armstrong led off his team and looked comfortable in fourth position after the first major pitch. But Beaver Creek's Jay Henry was the first to the hand-off area, logging the day's fastest lap at just 38:57.
Though Armstrong is best known for his exploits on the road, he quickly showed that he was no slouch on the mountain bike either, finishing less than a minute back at 39:44.
"I think [our teams] match up pretty well," said Henry shortly after handing off to Kloser. "I know those guys pretty well and Lance was I mean, at times I thought I'd dropped him and then I looked back and he was right there. I think he's ready to battle a little bit for sure and he did great on the technical stuff. I was riding it really aggressively and he kept the gap. He can ride a mountain bike, thats for sure. It's awesome having him here."
As it turns out, Armstrong's teammates could ride a mountain bike, too.
Zanni cut Beaver Creek's lead to a single second just one lap later then Taam, Armstrong's training partner for the Leadville 100, leapfrogged Leadville winner Wiens during lap number three. Livestrong continued to systematically add to its advantage from there and had built a ten-minute lead by mid-day.
In spite of the growing time gap, there was still a lot of racing to be done and Henry remained optimistic as he waited in the transition area for his fourth lap of the day. He said that the team's strategy was to "just keep ticking [laps] off. The hardest part of the race has not even begun yet. We're not too worried yet."
Henry might have been a bit more apprehensive had he realised that things were going exactly to the Livestrong plan.
"We wanted to start hard," said Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael. "With Lance we wanted to try to do around 40-minute laps and just kind of hold him there and he's been able to do that which is a good sign. And then once we got the gap it was like, let's just extend it."
"It's funny; much as this thing only came together two or three days ago, this could be the world championships for Lance. He's so focused. Any time it's bike racing, he wants to win. It doesn't matter if it's thing or anything else; he just wants to win."
The end of the day saw a last-ditch attempt by Beaver Creek to retake the lead but as the clock wound down, things weren't looking good. Beaver Creek needed Zanni to succumb to some sort of mechanical or other mishap and anchor man Kloser had to put in a sub-42:30 lap (his previous laps were 43:10 and 43:24). When all was said and done, Kloser kept his end of the bargain but Zanni came through the finish line unscathed (and looking fresh, no less).
Armstrong may have been the star of the event but he and Zanni were quick to acknowledge the team aspect of the win. "If it wasn't for these two guys, I wouldn't have been successful. I was certainly not the strongest guy in the race but these two guys made up the difference with the team."
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the 12 hours of Snowmass, including more on Armstrong's cyclo-cross racing season plans.