Area fans celebrate Armstrong’s victory | SteamboatToday.com
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Area fans celebrate Armstrong’s victory

Tamera Manzanares

— If reactions at Steamboat Springs bike shops were an indication, Lance Armstrong, in the process of winning his sixth consecutive Tour de France, has gotten Americans excited — really excited — about cycling.

“He’s, like, the best bike rider in the world,” 8-year-old Matt Helton of Castle Rock said about why Armstrong is one of his biggest heroes.

Matt and cousin Zach Whitlock, 6, of the Cayman Islands, decked out in shiny helmets and Camelbaks, were ready to blaze Steamboat’s trails while imagining they might grow to fill the cycling champion’s shoes.

“Everybody says I’m going to grow up to be like Lance because I’m so fast,” said Zach, who chattered excitedly about Armstrong’s victory Sunday while running into Sore Saddle Cyclery.

“Cool” and “amazing” were popular descriptors of Armstrong’s feat among the store’s customers and staff, some of who were surprised and somewhat relieved he had the strength and luck to win again.

“I think it’s great,” general manager Mark Bennett said. “It’s very inspirational … any American winning a big race in Europe is a big deal.”

In Steamboat, where riders are drawn more toward singletrack than black top, Armstrong’s achievements have helped instill a new appreciation for road cycling.

“I’ve learned a lot,” said employee Mike Giordano, a mountain biker who watched Tour de France coverage for the first time this year. “I pretty much didn’t know anything at the beginning.”

Rich Takesuye, manager of Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare, has followed the Tour de France since the 1960s and agreed Armstrong is largely responsible for Americans’ interest in the sport.

While some in the media have questioned whether America’s road cycling craze might end when Armstrong stops competing, Takesuye said the sports’ popularity will continue, especially among those who take part.

“I think it’s here,” he said, noting road bike sales — particularly high-end models such as those Armstrong rides — have “gone through the ceiling” this year at the store.

Others noted the number of Americans in the race this year is a testament to road cycling’s popularity.

There were seven Americans among the 188 riders who started the race, including Boulder resident Tyler Hamilton, who had to drop out because of a back injury, and Levi Leipheimer, who finished ninth.

“There are quite a few Americans that set themselves apart, which is pretty amazing in a European-dominated sport,” Sore Saddle mechanic JR Thompson said.

Though some have questioned whether Armstrong’s dominance has taken the element of surprise from the event, Thompson said hopes of another win, on top of the ever-present risk of crashing, made this year’s race more dramatic.

Also ever-present have been the accusations and questions about whether drugs have boosted Armstrong’s performance.

“It’s all in his head … he’s got the drive and physical tools to make it all happen,” Denver resident Scott Peck said as he enjoyed the sunshine outside Sore Saddle Cyclery in between road rides.

Armstrong’s dominance in the race, however, did make Peck wonder whether some drugs might be involved. Others doubted whether Armstrong would take that risk.

“It might pay off for a little while … but in the long run — and the Europeans are beginning to realize this — it’s more about training hard,” Thompson said about the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

Armstrong’s record-breaking victory inevitably will be followed by questions about whether he goes for his seventh win next year, even though some have said he should challenge himself with other races.

“I see the point …but if that’s what he wants to do, the Tour is so lucrative he doesn’t have to do anything else,” Bennett said.

While Sore Saddle employee Chris Gibbens agreed Armstrong would go for number seven, he wondered whether he might eventually bring his talents back to home soil.

“I think he is going to come and do a lot more races in the states,” he said. “I think he’d like to make cycling more popular in the U.S.”

— To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com


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