Lance Armstrong was passed in the final mile of the run and finished second in his 70.3-mile Ironman triathlon debut as the seven-time Tour de France winner seeks to qualify for the sport’s world championship.
The 40-year-old Armstrong, who quit professional cycling in February 2011 to focus on his Livestrong charity, finished yesterday’s Ironman Panama 70.3 race in a time of 3 hours, 50 minutes and 55 seconds. He was 42 seconds behind winner Bevan Docherty of New Zealand, a two-time Olympic medalist.
Following a 1.2-mile swim, Armstrong took a share of first place on the 56-mile bike ride. He lost the lead early on the 13.1-mile run before moving back in front and held off Docherty until being passed in mile 12.
“It was a completely new experience for me,” Armstrong said in an interview posted on the Ironman website. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know strategically how these races go down, so I tried to feel my way out on the bike and basically take a crash course in 70.3s.”
Armstrong also will compete in 70.3-mile half Ironman events in Texas in April, Florida in May, and Hawaii on June 2. He’ll then race a 140.6-mile full Ironman event on June 24 in Nice, France, in his quest to earn enough points to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii on Oct. 13.
While Armstrong won the Tour de France, cycling’s most prestigious event, each year from 1999 to 2005 after surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs, he said the bike portion of a triathlon race is much different.
“If I had to use one word to sum it up, I would say it’s tactical,” Armstrong said. “Although I think everyone stayed outside of the draft zone, it’s still very strategic, everyone looking at each other and afraid to make a move. I didn’t know what to expect.”
Armstrong competed as a professional triathlete at age 18 before focusing on cycling. He finished fifth in the Xterra USA Championship off-road triathlon in Utah in September, before committing to the Ironman races.
He said he’d done a lot of running in the leadup to his Ironman debut.
“That’s the way you’re competitive here, that’s the way you win races,” Armstrong said. “You ride for show and run for dough. At one point in my life I was a decent runner, so I’ve got to go back and rediscover that.”
World Triathlon, which owns the Ironman brand, disclosed Armstrong’s participation in its events last week as part of a partnership with Livestrong. With the agreement, Ironman will be a sponsor of the charity and auction four amateur slots for its world championship, with proceeds going to the charity. Armstrong’s Austin, Texas-based Livestrong charity has raised more than $325 million, according to its website.