LEADVILLE, Colo. -- Not since his last victory ride down the Champs-Elysees in 2005 has a finish line looked so sensational to Lance Armstrong.
The seven-time Tour de France champion took second place in the Leadville Trail 100 on Saturday, pushing six-time defending champion Dave Wiens to a record time in the "Race Across the Sky," a lung-searing 100-mile mountain bike race through the Rockies.
"I was empty at the end just in terms of fuel. I just haven't had seven-hour rides," Armstrong said after his first finish in a competitive bike race since he retired following his seventh straight triumph in the Tour de France.
Wiens crossed the finish on a flat back tire in 6 hours, 45 minutes, 45 seconds, shaving 13 minutes off the record he set last year while holding off Floyd Landis.
Armstrong crossed 1 minute, 56 seconds later on a cool, cloudy afternoon.
"The guy that I raced today wasn't the guy who won the Tours, so I don't put myself in that category," Wiens said. "But it was great of him to come out and do this race and to race with all the people. He's a class act out there. It was fun. We didn't talk a whole lot because it seemed like it was pretty much business."
Armstrong, who has turned his competitive juices to running marathons since he retired from competitive cycling three years ago, had said before the race he'd be happy with a top-five finish.
Wiens suggested before the race that Armstrong was either selling himself short or setting him up, and sure enough Armstrong pushed him like nobody ever had.
"At the end I realized I was thoroughly cooked, but I said, 'I am having a good time,' " Armstrong said. "That's why I wanted to come out here. I didn't expect to beat this guy so I just wanted to have something out there to shoot for, train for, stay in shape for and it was a blast. It really was."
So, will he be back?
"I think so," Armstrong said, adding: "I won't come back unless I'm in shape. And I feel like I'm in decent shape. You can't show up to this race if you're not in shape. So it just depends on how I train. I'd love to be back."
The country's highest-altitude bicycle race, which is sponsored by Lifetime Fitness, began at Leadville with 1,000 riders making the 50-mile out-and-back trek in one of the country's toughest single-day races. It starts at 10,500 feet and climbs to more than 14,000 feet.
Armstrong and Wiens raced together for 90 miles in the grueling test of lung-burning climbs and tough technical descents, the latter half of that by themselves.
With 10 miles to go, however, Armstrong turned to Wiens and said, "I'm done, go."
Wiens protested, hoping the two could battle it out to the end in the old tiny mining town of Leadville, where race co-founder Ken Chlouber had said Armstrong's entry in the race was the biggest news in these parts since the gold boom of 1860.
"He said come on," Armstrong recounted. "I said no, I can't."
As Wiens pulled away, Armstrong lost his focus and his bike slipped out from under him on a soft corner. He wasn't hurt and got right back up.
Still, Wiens never felt safe, constantly looking back. And when he crested his last hill with a half-mile left, he felt his back tire start to squish.
"I'm thinking, 'Oh, no,'" Wiens recalled. "I don't know what happened. It's got to be flattened by now. It was squishing all over."
Wiens couldn't believe he shaved so much time off his previous record.
"That was a product of Lance and I being together," Wiens said. "And the course was as fast as it gets."
About 75 miles in, Armstrong and Wiens both stayed on their bikes while ascending Powerline, where Wiens and the rest of the field had always walked their bikes on the gravel trail.
Not this time.
Armstrong asked Wiens if he ever rides that stretch, and Wiens said no way.
"That didn't deter him," Wiens said.
"It was Lance's idea. I would have never considered that."
"It's always better, especially at elevation, to ride it," Armstrong explained.
Armstrong said his next competitive race will be the Chicago Marathon in October.