It was a bike race, a festival, a tourist town's promotional dream. But most of all, the Nevada City Bicycle Classic was the Lance Armstrong show, from the moment he arrived in town Sunday until he crossed the line in first place, arms extended overhead, his muscular legs glistening in the early evening sun.
He did all the right things in the bike race, lapping all but five of 130 riders in the 90-minute circuit race through this picturesque, historic Gold Rush-era town with a dose of New Age quirkiness.
The multimillionaire, seven-time Tour de France champion even won a $50 prime (pronounced preem) during the race, a small incentive prize for winning a designated lap during the event.
Armstrong, 37, who returned to cycling after more than three years away from competition, also said all the right things afterward, complimenting the crowd of 20,000 and leaving them laughing.
"The highlight here is the crowds," Armstrong said during an interview over the public address system, "from the smell of the barbecue, the smell of the beer and, just after Turn 2, I thought I smelled something I won't go into here."
It was a classic bike race of tactics and power for Armstrong and his two teammates, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner. The three are among the finest riders in the world, and their accomplishments dwarfed those of the other pros in the field.
All three, for example, rode near the head of the peloton at the recent Giro d'Italia and, if Horner is named to the team as expected, all will compete in the Tour de France in two weeks.
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