By Mark Zalewski in Clovis, California, USA
While conventional wisdom says that an increase in crowd numbers at this year's Tour of California relate to Lance Armstrong's (Astana) return, the seven-time Tour de France winner thinks otherwise. Record crowds have turned out to every stage of the Tour of California so far, despite horrendous weather, with more expected as the weather turns nicer. Even for the climbing over the Sierra Nevada foothills, with snow banks measuring in feet, people were out to cheer on the riders.
"I think it is more about the event than me," said Armstrong. "It's been around for four years now and people are starting to appreciate it and look forward to it every year."
As much as the promoters of the event would like to think that the substantial spike in interest is due to their promotion efforts, the placement of Armstrong's photo on every piece of promotion material would suggest otherwise. More than 1,000 approved media credentials have been issued to this year's race.
"But it's not just me either," Armstrong said. "There are other riders they look forward to seeing. Obviously I appreciate, we all appreciate it... it's good to be here."
As for how his first race on United States of America soil since his retirement is going, Armstrong said: "It's a harder race than [Tour Down Under]. Obviously the weather was bad in the beginning and more climbs than the Tour Down Under, but Levi feels good and the team feels good."