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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Lance Armstrong has put his lifetime ban on the shelf and will line up in this Saturday’s Alpine Odyssey, a mountain bike race he won in Crested Butte last year.
“Excited to be racing / Alpine Odyssey this weekend in Crested Butte,” the star tweeted on Wednesday morning.
Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion, finds himself embattled in a doping scandal and will most likely lose his Tour titles after giving up his fight with the United States Anti-Doping Agency in late August.
USADA has banned Armstrong for life from high-level racing, but the race itself chose to run unsanctioned this year, allowing the Texan a chance to defend his title.
“Our thought was, like him or not, doping or not, allegations or allegories, the dude has done a ton for cycling and we wanted to basically to show our support,” said David Ochs, the local organizer for the Alpine Odyssey, which is part of the Leadville Race Series, owned by Life Time Fitness. Ochs is not affiliated with Lifetime Fitness.
With him, Armstrong will bring Colorado’s Keegan Swirbul, the 17-year-old phenom who beat Armstrong recently in the Power of Four mountain bike race in Aspen. Local Brian Smith is also expected to challenge for the win.
Asked if bringing Armstrong to the race was done for competitive or marketing reason — or both — Ochs was frank, noting that the public relations aspect was part of the organization’s thinking, “for sure,” in addition to allowing Armstrong the chance to defend his title.
“We know it gets good press and we’re not going to complain about that,” he said. Ochs also said he was “eager” to see how Armstrong is received, given the recent revelations that have chipped at the most dominant Tour de France rider’s legacy.
“I’m dying to know,” Ochs said. “I have seen, even here in Crested Butte, somebody I know — not even the biggest cyclist — has busted out some ‘Vive le Lance’ stickers.”
So far, 225 riders are registered for the Alpine Odyssey, a brutal 62-mile race on mostly dirt roads, with two 2,000-foot climbs. The race serves as a qualifier for the Leadville 100. Ochs is expecting many more now, thanks to the Armstrong bump.
“Like him or not, he’s a good thing for the sport,” Ochs said.