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Me and Lance Armstrong

October 21, 2011 - Robert Collias
After 25-plus years in this business, I rarely get overly excited about covering a certain event or any single interview. That was not the case on Wednesday when I went to Kapalua to talk to Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who is here for the Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon. I was the only reporter in the room where Armstrong taped a 15-minute interview with Xterra TV, mostly for sound bites that will be interspersed with their telecast of the event at a later date. After that interview, I got some one-on-one face time with Armstrong that simply hardly ever happens with an athlete of his magnitude.

My impression is that he's a 40-year-old guy who still enjoys competing at the top level — and make no mistake, he can compete with the best triathletes in the world as evidenced by his come-off-the-couch fifth-place finish at the Xterra USA Championship in Utah late last month. He has put more training in for Maui, so I think he is a darkhorse to win on Sunday in Kapalua. He was cordial and businesslike in my short time with him — remember perhaps no one in sports history has been put through the ringer by worldwide journalists more than Armstrong.

Here is the start of my story that ran in Thursday's paper:

KAPALUA - Conrad Stoltz is as big a name as there is in the Xterra off-road triathlon series, but he welcomes the presence of the biggest star the sport has ever drawn.

The Xterra World Championship will mark its 16th running on Maui at Kapalua on Sunday after a 15-year run in South Maui.

Stoltz is the defending champion and a four-time winner of the event, but he, the other 675 competitors in the race and the tape-delayed television audience will be focused on Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner.

"I don't think you can measure the value that Lance actually brings," Stoltz said Wednesday in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. "Just from the race in Utah, it was amazing to see the press coming and just seeing Xterra getting into the mainstream media. The course out there is in the middle of nowhere and normally there is hardly any people around and riding through the woods there was almost more cameras than trees."

Armstrong, 40, started in triathlon as a teen and came back to the sport last month at the Xterra USA Championship in Utah. Despite a fifth-place finish, his first triathlon in 22 years did not go well, by his standards. He decided to participate at the urging of lifelong friend Jimmy Riccitello, the winner of the first Xterra in Wailea in 1996 and part of Armstrong's support group this week.

"I didn't have any expectations in Utah, I didn't know exactly what I was getting into," Armstrong said. "I certainly hadn't trained for it, I had been too busy and then at the end of the day, I didn't really enjoy it because I suffered so much."

Armstrong brings more than just publicity, Stoltz said.

"The more press, the more sponsorship and TV the sport gets, it makes it easier for us to make a living from it, which is just amazing," Stoltz said.

Click here for the rest of the story.

And because of Armstrong's presence, The Associated Press is covering this event for the first time and asked me to do the honors. Here is a link to that shorter story from The Washington Post (it went out globally, the Post link is the first one that comes up on Google), a huge boost for the Xterra series.

I will be there Sunday to cover the race, and, yes, Armstrong will obviously be a huge part of our coverage at The Maui News and for the AP (which wants three different takes on the event). I will link to all coverage here.


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