By Brian Metzler
Will Lance be in Leadville? Seven months after Lance Armstrong said he couldn't ride in the Leadville 100, there is growing speculation that he might enter the race after all.
Race director Ken Chlouber said last week Armstrong was in Leadville recently to ride a portion of the course with longtime Colorado Springs-based coach Chris Carmichael and believes the seven-time Tour de France champion will ride in the August 11 race. Landis confirmed last month that he plans to participate.
"They rode the course and Chris called me that night to talk about it," Chlouber said. "I think it would be great if Lance came to the race, and after talking to Chris, I think he's probably coming."
Carmichael recently wrote a blog on the Carmichael Training Systems website about the early July Leadville training ride, which covered about 45 miles and included four of the course's five climbing sections, but didn't say whether Armstrong would be doing the race or not.
"For the record, Lance is not only quite fit, but he's also very good on a mountain bike," Carmichael said in the blog.
Armstrong announced last November that he planned to ride in the Leadville race. The plan was to ride with Carmichael, who finished the race in 2006, and Bart Knaggs, president of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, Mari Holden, a world champion and Olympic silver medalist rider, and Morris Denton, vice president of global marketing for computer chip giant AMD (one of Team Discovery's sponsors). Carmichael later divulged the group's simple but potentially pricey wager: Last one to the finish line buys dinner and drinks in Aspen.
But in late December, two weeks after Landis said he'd also enter the race, Armstrong cited a scheduling conflict and backed out of his original commitment to ride in the Leadville 100.
Armstrong said three weeks ago at a press conference for the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament in Stateline, Nevada, that he had been doing a lot of mountain biking over the last month in Idaho and Colorado.
Landis, the embattled 2006 Tour de France champion, is waiting to hear the results of his mid-May hearing with a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency arbitration panel. After his decisive win in the Tour's 17th stage last year, Landis tested positive for a high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, and also had traces of synthetic testosterone in his sample. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has continually claimed the test results were flawed and based on sloppy lab work.
In early June, Landis finished a disappointing 36th in the 21-mile mountain bike race (losing to women's winner Shonny Vanlandingham) and eighth in the 9.7-mile road bike hill climb at the Teva Mountain Games. Since June 26, he's been busy promoting his new book, "Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won The Tour de France."
If suspended, Landis would likely be ineligible to compete in any event sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI), USA Cycling or NORBA for two years. But if that's the case, Chlouber said he'll drop the race's NORBA affiliation and pick up insurance through an independent carrier to make sure Landis can participate.
The Leadville 100 starts on the streets of the historic mining town and sends 750 riders along dirt roads and trails of the Upper Arkansas River Valley at altitudes that range from 9,000 to 12,600 feet. Colorado's highest mountain, 14,433-foot Mt. Elbert, serves as the backdrop to the race.
Both Landis and Armstrong have significant mountain biking experience. Landis was a 1993 junior national mountain bike champion, while Armstrong finished third in the 1999 NORBA mountain bike cross-country national championships a month after his first Tour de France victory.
"I don't know officially if Lance is coming. But if he, we'd put him at the front of the starting line next to Floyd," Chlouber says. "I only wish he'd commit to it sooner, because that would mean instant network TV coverage for our community, and that would go a long way for our economy up here."
Four-time defending Leadville 100 champion Dave Wiens, the 2004 NORBA National Marathon Series champion, has heard the recent rumblings about Armstrong.
"It's interesting, but I felt like he was going to be there anyway," says Wiens, 42, who won last year's race in 7 hours, 13 minutes. "It will be cool for everyone involved if he's there and if Floyd is there, too. But we're not going to know until they fire the gun, so we'll just have to wait and see."