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Huntsville • Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong spent more than two hours Saturday swimming, biking and running during a triathlon near Snowbasin Resort. He finished in fifth place in the 2011 XTERRA USA Championship, at times giving winner Nicolas Lebrun everything he could handle.
But as soon as Armstrong cooled down, he heated back up. During a postrace interview, Armstrong refused to address a report Wednesday that linked him to the son of banned Italian physician Michele Ferrari, who was reportedly at the center of a doping ring.
"I'm not going to Listen: You guys report this last January. You report it in April, and now they're reporting it again," said Armstrong, who finished in 2:29:25 as he competed in his first triathlon in more than two decades. "Don't ask me all this. It's just stupid."
Armstrong, 40, has been hounded by steroid accusations during recent years. Saturday, he lit into "clowns on the other side" who intentionally leak negative reports about him that coincide with his public appearances, while calling out the media that "falls right into it."
"To be honest, I'm totally immune to any controversy," said Armstrong, who recently spoke at the United Nations and teamed up with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to promote awareness for the effort to eliminate cancer.
Armstrong added: "You guys can do the math on how this works."
Asked during the end of a five-minute interview whether he had trained for the triathlon with a group linked to steroids, he responded: "No, no. But I've always maintained those guys are my friends and that's not going to change."
The controversy that has erased Armstrong's once-invincible aura was invisible Saturday morning. He was followed by fans holding "Ogden loves Lance" signs and swarmed by hundreds of admirers as he engaged in prerace activities. Armstrong signed autographs, smiled as he was hugged during group photos, and appeared at ease before he entered the water for a one-mile swim.
He exited Pineview Reservoir in the first pack, then pulled into second place overall during the initial part of an 18-mile bike race. Armstrong dueled with South Africa's Conrad Stoltz before losing ground during a six-mile run.
"I knew I wasn't going to go for the win, and it's better just to ride tempo and ride at your limit and hope that we kind of survived," Armstrong said.
He left the door open to participating in further triathlons with a "maybe," but hinted that it was unlikely he'll compete in more off-road events. Armstrong acknowledged that he was nervous at the start of the race, and was unable to sleep during the previous two nights.
"I was trying to stay focused on what I had today, just because I was so freaked out because it had been so long," he said.
Armstrong's apprehension turned into inspiration for Lebrun, who captured first place with a time of 2:24:26. Like Armstrong, the French triathlete gained ground by pedaling. And when Lebrun eyed the famous cyclist in his path, he knew that he had a chance at victory.
"I saw Lance right in front and said, 'Oh, this is amazing,' " Lebrun said.
It marked his first title at Snowbasin in five appearances.
"I really love the place, love the people … so it was really good to win here," Lebrun said. "Especially today with Lance in the race, it brings really more people around, more press. It was really a good day to have a perfect race."
Dan Hugo (2:24:50) took second place, while Josiah Middaugh (2:25:37) finished third. Canada's Melanie McQuaid (2:43:00) captured the women's championship for the fourth consecutive year.
XTERRA chief executive officer Tom Kiely estimated that the triathlon received a boost of 3,000 observers due to Armstrong's presence, and predicted that a weekend filled with a variety of outdoor events will bring about 10,000 people to Snowbasin.
"The thing about Lance is that he started as a triathlete, so it's a real and authentic endeavor for him to be here," Kiely said. "And he's a world figure. … For him to race with XTERRA is a compliment not only to us but all endurance sports.
"It also says that here's a guy who says, 'OK. My Tour de France or cycling career is over, but I have the next career to dovetail into that.' And I think it's a good message to the country: Don't give up, keep going."
The winner rides
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong finished fifth in the XTERRA USA Championship triathlon, which was held Saturday at Snowbasin Resort in Huntsville:
Event (Distance) Time
Swim (1 mile) 21:55
Bike (18 miles) 1:24:32
Run (6 miles) 42:58