Lance … a lot |

Lance … a lot

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Lance Armstrong is hounded by autograph seekers Thursday as he makes his first appearance at the American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

STATELINE – Move over, Michael. To alter the title of his best-selling book, it was almost all about Lance Armstrong at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course on Thursday.

Hundreds of media and fans swarmed the seven-time Tour de France cycling champion who turned the American Century Championship into a philanthropic venture. His $50 million foundation that takes his own name, is the primary beneficiary this year.

“Lance, Lance, Lance,” people carrying books, guides and hats chanted, as he walked a gauntlet between the driving range to the first hole. Men were seen jumping over toddlers. Those with long arms won out on getting the precious autographs. Sometimes his all-black attire with yellow tiger stripes on his shoes was lost in the crowd.

Donna Boroff of Reno, a cyclist herself, removed the license plate off her Ford F150 truck and cleaned it up with the hopes of getting an autograph on it.

“He’s an amazing athlete. I just admire what he’s gone through, and what he’s done. And it seems like from his career, he’s become a generous person,” she said.

“Lance, you’ve got a survivor here,” a Sacramento breast cancer survivor yelled with the hopes of obtaining an autograph. Armstrong fought testicular cancer and formed the foundation dedicated to funding research efforts toward the cause.

When he teed up, Armstrong motioned to the crowd on both sides of the ropes to stand back. The crowd at the first hole appreciated the gesture and laughed. But then his game caught on, and the fans clapped on many swings. Earlier in a press conference, he warned people to stand back because of how infrequently he plays golf.

Even basketball great Charles Barkley noticed his crowd thinning to contribute to the mob following Armstrong and joked about Armstrong’s ability and newly found fame on the golf course.

“Hey, he’s in phenomenal shape, but he just rides a bike,” Barkley quipped as if cycling is easy.

“You’re cuter,” a Barkley fan responded.

But Jessica Villalobos made it clear she liked Armstrong’s look and was struck by his stardom.

“He’s beautiful. He’s just perfect,” she cooed. The young South Lake Tahoe woman doesn’t ride a bicycle and never followed a professional cyclist, but she’s watched the Tour de France every year he’s participated.

Armstrong meets the media, again

Before he encountered golf fans and after hosting the ESPY awards for sports stars the night before, the Austin cycling great told the Tahoe Daily Tribune in a packed press conference that his nostalgia and melancholy of retiring from the Tour was limited to his perspective as a fan.

“Well, I knew that they would go on without me. Honestly, I don’t miss being there as an athlete. But I’m still a fan. I tune in daily. I love the event. I love the sport,” said Armstrong, who took up his sport spending hours cruising by the blue bonnets of Texas. “Look I’m sitting here today, and we still have an American in yellow, and I think that’s huge for cycling. And I hope that the public, the sporting public and the cycling public really understands that, how significant that is; that we are some of the best in the world at this sport that’s really not our sport.”

Armstrong added he was age 35 and ready to move on and do other things in life. He pointed to his foundation as “my new Tour de France.”

“If we affect change there, that will be a lot bigger than one Tour or seven tours,” he said.

On a sentimental note, Armstrong told the Tribune he hadn’t returned to Beech Mountain in Boone, N.C. – the place that began his quest for the first Tour championship. At the point when he was too weak from his struggle with cancer, he tackled the mountain at the urging of his coach Chris Carmichael and felt good about his performance.

Would Armstrong do the Death Ride? The Death Ride is Tahoe’s challenging organized ride over 100 miles with a 16,000 foot elevation gain.

“Maybe,” he politely stated.

“I want to do a marathon first,” he said. Reports have indicated he’s seeking a run at the New York Marathon.

Further notes: His fight with cancer makes him “very pro” for stem cell research, he said. When he goes to the Tour for the ceremony, he also said he plans to keep at home his mom – identified as the most influential person in his life.

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