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For Armstrong, Just Another Sunday Ride
August, 5 2002

The New York Times, 08.05.02
Frank Litsky
When a bike racer like Lance Armstrong wins the sport's biggest challenge, the Tour de France, even once, let alone four straight years after surgery and intense chemotherapy for life-threatening cancer, the expectations become huge.

Almost everyone seems to expect him to win every race, and never mind excuses that the three-week Tour, with its mountains and time trials, is far different from a two-hour speed race over a tricky course through New York's financial district.

Yesterday, for the New York City Cycling Championship, the thousands who lined the course put the expectations aside. The biggest cheers — before, during and after the race — went to Armstrong, a 30-year-old Texan. So what if 39 of the 72 male professionals who started the race failed to finish on a 92-degree afternoon? So what if Armstrong ended up 28th among the 33 who finished?

The result was hardly a disgrace because Armstrong, after a starting-line chat with the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, raced hard for his United States Postal Service team. He often led the main field behind a seven-man breakaway group that spent most of the race more than a minute ahead of the others. Armstrong had a teammate in that group and helped control the field so it would not catch up.

It was not his fault that the breakaway group was caught with three laps remaining in the 50-lap, 62.14-mile race. He did his part in helping to set up teammates for the final sprint, but the Saturn team did better.

Saturn put Iván Dominguez, who defected from Cuba in 1998, into position. In the final 200 meters (656 feet), with speeds approaching 45 miles an hour, Dominguez, 26, powered past Vasily Davidenko, a Russian on the Navigators team, and won by the length of a bike wheel, or two feet.

The first 18 finishers had the same time: 2 hours 6 minutes 38 seconds, for an average speed of 29.441 m.p.h. Armstrong, his work done, shut down in the final meters and finished 16 seconds behind the winner.

After the race, the crowds ran only to Armstrong. When he finally arrived at a news conference at a corner restaurant, hundreds of people pressed against the windows on both sides to get a glimpse.

Before the race, Mark Gorski, the general manager of Armstrong's team, said, "This is like a flat stage of the Tour de France, and he doesn't win flat stages." After the race, Armstrong agreed.

"This is a totally different style of racing," he said. "It's like putting a marathoner in a 400-meter dash. My main aim was to stay out of trouble and, when I had to, control the field."

Armstrong committed to this race months ago, partly because the designated charity was the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Because of the race, he passed up the New York City news media tours he had done after his first three Tour victories and instead rode in lower-level European criteriums, a traditional financial reward for Tour winners.

He won the Tour de France eight days ago. He won criteriums Tuesday in Stiphout, the Netherlands, and Friday in Rheda, Belgium.

On Saturday, with Floyd Landis as his partner, he finished eighth in a criterium for two-man teams. On Saturday night, he flew to Paris and took the Concorde here, arriving at 8:30 a.m. yesterday for the 1:30 p.m. race. This morning, he is booked on a return flight on the Concorde and will ride in a race Saturday. His appearance fee of $50,000 or more does not scare race promoters.


SARAH UHL, a 19-year-old University of Vermont sophomore from Perkasie, Pa., who is the world junior sprint champion, won a 24-mile race for female professionals. NELSON VAILS, a New York City bike messenger who became a 1984 Olympic silver medalist, won the celebrity race. He beat, among others, KEITH HERNANDEZ, the former Mets first baseman, and JEFF BLATNICK, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in wrestling.