Record Crowd Welcomes Armstrong Back to Peloton A record crowd of 138,000 people flocked to Adelaide's Rymill Park tonight to welcome back to the peloton, seven time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong, in the Cancer Council Classic, a prelude
A record crowd of 138,000 people flocked to Adelaide's Rymill Park tonight to welcome back to the peloton, seven time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong, in the Cancer Council Classic, a prelude to the 2009 Tour Down Under.
The introduction of the 37 year old Texan was greeted by a deafening roar of support with fans of all ages clamouring for a glimpse of a true legend of sport.
But the 30 lap criterium, which covered a total distance of 51 kilometres, was never going to be one in which Armstrong was expected to shine. Rather it was a race for sprinters as three time Tour de France sprint champion, Queensland's Robbie McEwen, proved with his first win for his new team Katusha.
McEwen, who had won on this course in 2004, 2005 and 2006 powered over the line to claim the win ahead of Willem Stroetinga (Milram) and Sydney's Graeme Brown (Rabobank). His finishing time was 1hr04min32sec gave the event an average speed of 47.417km/h. Lance Armstrong crossed the line in 64th place at 23 seconds but was happy to have a race under his belt.
"It was tough," said Armstrong. "I think the last time I did a criterium of this style it was in 1990.
"It was a tough criterium and I found it safer and a little easier in the back," said Armstrong who admits he is not yet at full fitness. "It's fun to get back in there (but) it will probably take a while and I need to get more power and do some more hills."
"I was a little nervous in the corners, honestly the weirdest thing was the sun - the sun was going down here (points to a corner) you had the sun really in your eyes," said Armstrong. "But after that, it was fine.
"I felt good, I've trained a lot for this comeback, I've trained a lot for this race," he said. "I'm glad the first day is over and now we can get into the race and maybe relax a little bit more.
"There was a lot of anxiety before today," admitted Armstrong. "It's not my style (of racing), but I enjoyed it.
But the tight circuit and fast pace was tailor made for McEwen.
"I love a crowd," said the 36 year old. "This was my first day out with my (new) team and I worked fairly hard during the summer and I wanted to be in good shape for this race.
" I said before, if I get one win when I’m down here this week, it will be fantastic, so we’ve got it ... great start to the year, and I couldn’t be happier," he said. "The guys (team) did a very good job, considering it's their first race of the season.
"They haven’t got any race fitness, but they came out and gave it everything," he explained. "We got together and worked out a bit of a tactic. I also just said to them, ‘Listen fellas, there’s no pressure. We’ll do it, and if it works out, great, but if you haven’t got the legs, it’s the first race of the year, there’s plenty to go.’
"We’ve got win number one so we’re the happiest team, here at the moment," said McEwen who only arrived in Adelaide on Saturday night and took the opportunity early in the race to say hi to Armstrong with whom he shared the podium in 2002 and 2004 when he won the green jersey and Armstrong the yellow in the Tour de France. "He looked OK, I went and said, ‘G’Day’ to him somewhere in the first 10 laps of the race, and he was glad to be there. I said to him, ‘welcome back’ and he was cruising, just trying to stay out of trouble. He said, I’d give you a handshake, but I don’t want to take my hands off the bars... first race back.
"My last big win was in Paris-Brussels in the middle of September but there’s something special to win in your own country, in the biggest race of the country, in front of all these people, is a really special atmosphere.
"I love coming to this race, and when you’ve got all these people cheering for you, it does give you a little bit extra," said McEwen who some media pundits have said is getting to the end of his career. "It’s been written, ‘Getting old, this and that’... but I’ve just done my thing, done my training and here I am ... first, that’s all that matters."
Meantime 19 year old Jack Bobridge, riding with the UniSA - Australian National Team gave his hometown crowd something to cheer for early in the race when he sprinted clear to win the Skoda Sprint at the end of lap five and the Hindmarsh Sprint at the end of lap ten. Frenchman Jeremy Roy (Francaise de Jeux) attacked mid way through to claim the Cycle Instead Sprint at the end of lap 15 and his team mate Timothy Gudsell of New Zealand collected the SA Lotteries Sprint at the end of lap 20 before the teams of the favourites upped the speed to set up their fast men for the finish.
The 133 riders will tomorrow have their final training rides before lining up in the first UCI ProTour event of the season, the Tour Down Under, which kicks off in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood on Tuesday morning.