New York fans flock to see Tour de France champ

Posted: Monday, August 05, 2002

NEW YORK -- Lance Armstrong didn't care about how he finished in the New York City Cycling Championship on Sunday.

He was there for something more important.

Armstrong, the four-time Tour de France winner, raced in the inaugural event in lower Manhattan as a way to honor a city that has gone through so many difficulties the last year.

Armstrong, competing in his first race in the United States since winning his fourth straight Tour title last week in Paris, finished 28th overall, in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 54 seconds.

He was 16 seconds behind winner Ivan Dominguez, of the Saturn team, in the 62.5-mile road race.

''This race was special in light of what happened a few blocks from here. You can't forget that,'' Armstrong said. ''After 9-11, I wanted to come here to do something, a tribute, somehow, some way.''

More than 100,000 fans, including Jerry Seinfeld came out to see the event, in large part because of Armstrong.

Fans clustered near the start-finish line, waving signs supporting Armstrong and ringing cow bells when they saw him coming. One person waived a Texas flag in honor of Armstrong's home state.

The 1.2-mile course snaked through New York's financial district, taking riders past skyscrapers on Water Street.

Though the cyclists raced a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site, Armstrong said it was hard not to think about what happened nearly a year ago.

Armstrong was in New York a little more than a week after Sept. 11 and flew over ground zero.

''That was a big shock to me,'' he said.

Armstrong had never participated in a race in New York until Sunday. The road race does not suit the style of Armstrong, a mountain specialist.

But fans certainly appreciated his appearance.

Even after the race was over, many people crowded outside glass windows where Armstrong gave a press conference at a restaurant a few blocks from the course. They chanted, 'Lance, Lance!' and he waved back.

Even second-place finisher Vassili Davidenko from Russia, noticed the tremendous turnout.

''It's unbelievable how many people there were today,'' Davidenko said.

Gerard Bisceglia, chief executive officer of USA Cycling, said having Armstrong in an event lifts everyone's enthusiasm.

''Lance is the king of the sport right now,'' Bisceglia said. ''It's like a golf tournament without Tiger Woods.''

Armstrong was one of six members of the U.S. Postal Service team to race Sunday. Antonio Cruz was the top finisher from that team, finishing seventh.

Next up for Armstrong is a race in Italy on Saturday and one in Switzerland a week later. His final race of the season is the 110-mile road race in San Francisco on Sept. 15.

And of course, he has his eye on winning a fifth-straight Tour de France next summer.

''For me, the Tour is everything,'' Armstrong said. ''If you win, the season is a success.''

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