Two weekends ago, Lance Armstrong and professional triathlete Chris Lieto dueled in an 11-mile time trial along Kona’s Queen K Highway – a notoriously windy stretch of road that serves as the bike leg of the Hawaii Ironman World Championships.
The spontaneous face-off came about from an exchange on Twitter after the two endurance stars passed each other while training. Lance initiated the challenge writing, “Hey Chris, a little TT showdown on the Queen K tomorrow? You, me and whoever.”
Lieto accepted the challenge and the race was on. Both athletes turned in impressive performances, averaging over 35 mph with a strong tailwind. Lieto was slower, but only by nine seconds. Nine seconds to Lance Armstrong, the greatest cyclist to ever throw a leg over a bike, is ridiculously impressive considering Lieto isn’t a full time cyclist. He trains for 3 sports and can still ride within nine seconds of the best ever.
This brings me to my advice to Lance about his expressed desire to compete in triathlon, specifically at the Ironman distance – DON’T DO IT, at least don’t do it with the intention of winning. Lance’s greatest strength in triathlon is obviously his bike leg, but this TT with Lieto proves that it’s not as big as he thinks. Lieto turned in the fastest bike split last year in Kona, riding 4:25:10 for 112 miles with an average speed of 25.34 mph. I don’t doubt Lance’s ability to match Lieto on the bike, but could he run a sub 2:50 marathon right after? I’m thinking not even close.
I acknowledge the fact that Lance got his start in triathlon and has run marathons recently, but there’s no way he could turn himself into a world class triathlete. I’m not the only one who thinks so either. Chris “Macca” McCormack, the 2007 Ironman World Champion, had this to say to Competitor.com when asked about Lance’s chances:
“It’s not about the bike at Kona. It’s about being able to put together a swim, bike and run…I’d have money that he’d have a very, very solid war with someone like Chrissie Wellington…”
And that’s why Macca is one of my favorite triathletes, he’s not afraid to speak his mind and state that Lance would have a close race with last year’s women’s champion. She is an amazing athlete and set the women’s course record last year, beating the majority of the pro men’s field in the process, but she was still a long way off the pace of winner Craig Alexander.
Historically, questioning the strength and physical ability of Lance Armstrong is not a good idea. But when it comes to Ironman racing, I just don’t see him being competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely love to see him toe the start line in Kona, but his chances of another Tour podium finish are significantly better than his chances at an Ironman top-3 finish.
I can’t wait to see how this plays out. I love that guys like Macca and Lieto have the guts and confidence to stand up to Lance. I’m praying LA takes a shot at Kona. If nothing else, it will at least draw a huge amount of attention to the sport. And when Lance gets crushed by the world’s best triathletes, maybe the cycling community will have a little more respect for their multi-sport counterparts.