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Lance Armstrong’s participation helped define Sunday’s conclusion to the Steamboat Stinger weekend as a big-time local event, and what he said afterward summed it up.
A crowd gathered as Armstrong chugged toward the finish line of Sunday’s Steamboat Stinger trail marathon at the base of Howelsen Hill, cheering the world-renowned champion as he crossed the finish line, winning the inaugural 26.2-mile race.
He took a few more steps, then hunched over, eyes wide and bright yellow Livestrong tank top sagging with sweat.
“Wow,” he said, hands on his knees.
His first-place finish and time — 3 hours, 18 minutes and 10 seconds — might have made it seem a bit easy, but Armstrong’s exhaustion mirrored that of his competitors, and his opinion matched the consensus. The course was beautiful and the race was fun, but wow, the Steamboat Stinger was tough.
Finishers of the Stinger marathon painted a picture of a grueling run that left athletes — sports celebrities and plain ol’ locals alike — in awe. Sweating, heaving, exhausted awe.
“It was hard,” Armstrong said. “There was a lot of vertical climbing and a lot of technical downhills and obviously it’s a marathon.
“I’ve only done three marathons, two New Yorks and a Boston. I’ve never done anything like that.”
Armstrong said he broke away from the other top racers about 14 miles in and handled the unfamiliar trails as best he could.
Erik Stanley was second in 3:26:04, Austin Johnson was third at 3:30:22 and Harry Niedl, the top local finisher, was fourth in 3:37:23.
“I ran the best race I could have possibly ran,” Niedl said. “I tried to stick with Lance and those guys at the beginning, but they just went out too hard.
“That can be dangerous. If you risk it running too hard like that in the first two miles and you don’t have it later, you die the most painful death in the race.”
Armstrong’s run easily drew the most attention, with everyone at the finish pulling cellphones from pockets to snap a pic and document their brush with the seven-time Tour de France champ.
The exploits of women’s marathon champ Sari Anderson may have out-shined the star, however. She won that race in 3:52:30, finishing a comfortable 12 minutes ahead of her nearest competitor.
That result came a day after she was second in the 50-mile solo women’s division of the Steamboat Stinger's mountain bike race on the same trail.
“I actually feel surprisingly good,” Anderson said, assessing herself after the 76.2-mile weekend. “It feels good to do well and have a successful weekend. Now tomorrow, tomorrow I’m not going to be able to move.”
Oak Creek runner Callie Bradley was second in the race at 4:04:21, and Julie Olsen was third in 4:05:21.
As the top combined finisher in the two races, Anderson earned Queen Bee honors. Hannah Williams was second in the Queen Bee standings, Jesse Young was third and Nancy Citriglia was fourth. Max Taam was tops among the men. Andrew Fast was second, Erik Graab was third and Diarmuid Truax was fourth.
Boulder’s James Johnson won the half-marathon in 1:35:46, ahead of Steamboat resident Josh Smullin in 1:39:57, and Nathan Schultz in 1:40:37. Beth Gerdes won the women’s half in 1:50:08. Kerri Willis was in second in 1:54:36, and Trisha Oeth was third in 1:58:23.
In all, nearly 300 racers took to the trail Sunday, joining the 400 who rode in Saturday's event.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com