Armstrong not looking for sympathy from fans

Lance Armstrong rides in a mountain bike race in Colorado. He finished five minutes back in Saturday's event.
Lance Armstrong rides in a mountain bike race in Colorado. He finished five minutes back in Saturday's event. (RICCARDO S. SAVI / Getty)
Posted: August 26, 2012

ASPEN, Colo. - Lance Armstrong was feeling just fine even after being beaten by a lanky teenager in a grueling 36-mile mountain bike race.

Better than fine, even. He's more at ease now than he has been in a decade.

In his first interview since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency disciplined Armstrong with a lifetime ban from professional cycling and vacated his seven Tour de France titles, he said, "Nobody needs to cry for me. I'm going to be great."

Armstrong couldn't catch Keegan Swirbul at the Power of Four bike race Saturday, finishing nearly five minutes behind the hard-charging kid.

"It's cool to get your butt kicked by a 16-year-old when you know he has a bright future," Armstrong said, smiling.

For a few hours, Armstrong was back in his element - on a bike and in a race.

No controversies weighing him down, either.

The escape into the mountains around Aspen was almost refreshing. He took the time to enjoy a bright, blue day and soak in the scenery.

As for what lies ahead, Armstrong wasn't thinking that far - only toward lunch. Armstrong chatted for a few minutes before saying, "OK, I'm going to go eat a cheeseburger."

Before leaving, though, he posed for pictures with the throng of fans who gathered at the base of a ski lift to watch the racers finish.

Asked if there was anything he would to say to his fans, the ones who've supported him through the controversy, he said: "I think people understand that we've got a lot of stuff to do going forward. That's what I'm focused on and I think people are supportive of that. It's great to be out here."

Decked out in black and gold and sporting a Livestrong emblem on his jersey, Armstrong tinkered with his bike and gave a kiss to girlfriend Anna Hansen before pedaling off. Hansen was waiting at the finish, too.

So were plenty of other members of the Armstrong entourage.

His busy weekend was supposed to include a trail marathon Sunday. But he told the Associated Press two hours later he was going to skip the race.

This competition simply took that much out of him. With good reason, given all the climbing the cyclists had to do.

And while Armstrong may be banned from cycling, it certainly hasn't diminished his passion for competition.

Only now, these weekend races may have to suffice.

"It's not so much about racing anymore for me," Armstrong said. "For me, it's more about staying fit and coming out here and enjoying one of the most beautiful parts of the world, on a beautiful day, on a very hard course. Some may say you're a little sick to spend your free time doing stuff like this. I had a good time."

So did Swirbul - beating his idol was the highlight of his burgeoning career.

Or so he thought. Then came this: Armstrong saying Swirbul was a rider to keep an eye on down the road. Swirbul beamed as he stood next to Armstrong.

Swirbul hardly had the heart to tell Armstrong that he won with only one gear - the rest going out early in the race.

"I'm so psyched right now," said Swirbul, who turns 17 on Sept. 2. "I wanted to win this race so bad."

How come?

"To beat the seven-time Tour champ," he said, grinning.

Armstrong, who retired a year ago and turns 41 next month, said Thursday that he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration.

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