Ready to race his bike and ever eager to raise awareness about cancer research, Lance Armstrong said that he was excited to be lining up with 135 others Saturday for the start of the nine-day Amgen Tour of California.
"For me it just clicked in my mind that maybe I would try this again," Armstrong said during a news conference Thursday at the Sheraton Grand, "just for fun."
The feeling is expected to be mutual. Huge crowds are expected throughout the race. Riders begin with a 2.4-mile individual race against the clock prologue in Sacramento, head to the coast from Davis on Sunday and then begin a deliberate and challenging journey southward to San Diego.
Though the field contains many of pro cycling's superstars, including Belgian strongman Tom Boonen, Swiss time trial powerhouse Fabian Cancellera and new sprinting sensation Mark Cavendish of England, most of the attention is focused on Armstrong, who has little to prove in the sport he once practically owned.
From 1999, when he shocked the European cycling establishment by winning his first Tour de France after recovering from cancer, to 2005, when he rode into retirement with his seventh consecutive title, Armstrong became one of the greatest athletes in history and an inspiration to millions well behind the professional peloton.
When Armstrong announced in September that he was returning to competitive cycling after three years of running marathons, walking down red carpets and circling the globe on behalf of cancer research, it soon became apparent that his comeback would pass through Sacramento. In fact, if the 37-year-old legs are anywhere close to the 32-year-old version, Armstrong will be considered one of the favorites to win the prologue, which begins on the Capitol Mall and ends with a rip-roaring straightaway down L Street to the finish line at 11th Street in front of the Capitol dome.
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