In the real world, cycling enthusiast Len Zanni is the co-owner of Big Agnes, but for a few days last week, he experienced the chaotic realm of cycling legend Lance Armstrong.
The situation came as a surprise to Zanni, a Carbondale resident who owns Big Agnes along with Steamboat Springs businessman Bill Gamber and provides much of the marketing for Steamboat-based Honey Stinger.
When he's not at work, Zanni is an avid mountain biker. He's a regular in the Aspen Cycling Club's 20-race bike series, and he also races in the Mountain States Cup when he can. A little more than a week ago, Zanni said he never imagined riding on the same course with Armstrong.
But on Sunday, the B-level mountain biker with two kids and a full-time job sat next to the cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France champion, facing a flurry of questions from reporters who seemed more interested in Armstrong's return to competitive cycling than the details of the 12-hour race.
"What an experience," Zanni said Tuesday while visiting Steamboat Springs for a business meeting. "It was a pretty unique experience that I just kind of fell into."
Team Livestrong - Zanni, Max Taam and Armstrong - edged Jay Henry, Mike Kloser and Dave Wiens of Team Beaver Creek to win the first 12-hours of Snowmass race. Both teams completed 17 laps, but Team Livestrong finished 6 minutes, 39 seconds faster than Team Beaver Creek.
"I've never been the focus of that kind of attention," Zanni said. "Lance definitely added to the intensity of this event."
He said the chance to race with Armstrong came down to a couple of lucky breaks.
The first came when the third member of the team, which Zanni and Max Taam formed, dropped out. The second came when Armstrong, who has been spending a lot of time in the Aspen area recently, decided he wanted to race. Armstrong and Taam have become unofficial training partners.
"We were really fortunate to get this opportunity," Zanni said. "Normally a guy like Lance Armstrong would be riding with elite professional riders. We were just lucky to get this chance."
Zanni said the team was formed less than a week before the race.
"There was a little more pressure riding with Lance. It was clear that he wanted to win," Zanni said.
Zanni said he had never met Armstrong before the event, but said the team got together over dinner prior to the 12-hour race to discuss their strategy for the event. It paid off on the course as the three riders traded laps en route to the win.
"He's a super nice guy who has just happened to have won the Tour de France," Zanni said.
He also said Armstrong is a very humble person and a talented mountain biker, who posted some of the most consistent lap times of the event. Zanni said he expects Armstrong's return to competitive cycling will be a success.
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