At 10:42 a.m., Lance Armstrong sent out the following Twitter message to his 2.6 million tweeps: "Hey Vermont - let's ride!! 4pm in Waterbury. Corner of Main St & Warren Ct at what looks like a park to me (on Google Earth). #twitterride!"
To bike dorks, here's what the message actually sounded like: "Hey buddy. Just blowin thru town 4 a few hours. Dying 2 see u. Wanna come 4 a ride?"
As a result of that reading of Lance's tweet, just about every Spandex-clad cycling nerd in northern and central Vermont showed up at 4 p.m. on the dot to ride with Lance. You know, an intimate little spin.
But it wasn't just bike weenies who showed up. There were parents and their kids, gawking office workers and people who just love seeing a celebrity, even if it's one who's under federal investigation for doping allegations. Oh, and me. I was there. On my Huffy.
Around 4 p.m., the assembled crowd got word that Sir Lance had just arrived at BTV and was en route. We know this because he Tweeted was was going to be late. Because he's Lance Armstrong, he's probably allowed to use his cell phone on the plane. He's also probably allowed to man the flight controls and carry on liquids in containers larger than three ounces. You know, just cuz he's Lance.
The waiting around gave me ample opportunity to check out what the crowd was wearing. There were folks in their fancy team kits who looked ready to paceline from here to New Hampshire. Other folks wore all manner of cancer-fighting LIVESTRONG (live strongly, perhaps?) paraphernalia, from branded hoodies and T-shirts those loathsome yellow silicone bracelets. Some folks chose to show their support by wearing full replica Team Radio Shack kits, which is sort of like wearing a Michael Bublé t-shirt to a Michael Bublé concert. Dude, we know you like him; that's why you're here.
But the top prize in the afternoon's best-dressed competition goes to the fellow who boldly wore cycling tights made to look like acid washed jeans. If only he'd had the Spandex jean jacket top that went with them. Then the look would be complete. Kudos to you, brother! Somewhere, Twisted Sister is jealous.
These tights are a thing of beauty.
We were all getting a little antsy when out of nowhere, Lance rolled up. It was like he rode in on the mist. More likely, one of his handlers for the three hours that he was scheduled to be in our fair state dropped him off around the corner after he did a quick change into his bike kit in the car. Unless he's like Superman and wears that thing under his street clothes. Then he hopped out and pedaled up to the group like "Oh, hey guys. What are you doing here?"
Unsurprisingly, the crowd descended on him like frat guys on a beer bong. Within a few seconds of him cruising up to the group of about 200, Lance was swarmed by people, every single one of whom seemed to shove a camera in his face. While I was angling for a photo or two, up popped WCAX's sports dude Seth Leavitt, who seemed to have materialized from underneath the crowd. Sneaky TV people.
Lance never talks to a lady without his helmet on. Photo by Rose Long
Anyway, with Seth all up in Lance's junk, picture-time was over. Luckily, the interview didn't take long and then it was on to the riding portion of Lance's micro-visit. He was in Vermont to speak at the Mary Haas Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Foundation Awareness Dinner at Sugarbush. But only for a few hours — he had to get back to Colorado where one of his baby mamas was about to pop out yet another Armstrong progeny. This'll be the fifth. Pretty impressive for a guy with only one nut.
The ride itself went like this: spazzy cyclists hammered to get next to his Lanceness and people were all over the road. It was like herky-jerky flash mob cycling. Despite some direction by the finest Mayberry-style cops in Vermont, the (mostly male) cyclists were out of control, riding all over the road. What is it about seeing sports celebrities that makes so many men desperate to sniff jock? I mean, I love cycling, but I wanted to ride Lance's jock about as much as I want to eat hot tar, which is not that much.
Lance getting schooled in the art of hill climbing by UVM cycling team member Rose Long.
While I and a few compadres tootled up the hills of Route 100 heading towards Sugarbush, others were doing whatever it took to keep pace with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance — passing slowpokes by crossing the double yellow line, riding on the opposite shoulder, injecting human growth hormone into their bums, you name it. For real, my lungs were burning about a mile into the damn trip. Out of the gate, we were going like 25 miles per hour. Uphill.
Now, I'm not going to say I got dropped from the peloton. I'm going to say that I voluntarily removed myself from the pack when it seemed prudent to do so. No one knew exactly where the ride was going — some people said Lance was riding all the way to Sugarbush — and I didn't want to get stuck out in Fayston in the dark. So I turned around and pedaled back to my car.
Apparently, I didn't miss much. Lance road the 7.5 miles to the intersection with Rt. 100b, pulled off in the car turnaround, pressed some flesh, posed for some photos, kissed some babies and then told the crowd he was sorry he had to dash, but he had to go give a talk about being awesome and hating cancer. Then he hopped in a van and drove off. The rest of the cyclists, or rather, those who followed Lance the whole way and managed not to crash on some sketchy downhills, turned around and rode back to their cars in the fading light.
Lance headed off to the black-tie optional, invitation-only event ($250 a plate, $1000 for a private meet-and-greet ticket) and flew out shortly thereafter. Though he's heading back to his other lady in Colorado, at least I know we'll always have Waterbury.