Armstrong rides in 50-mile charity event

Updated: September 26, 2010, 5:26 PM ET
Associated Press

ASPEN, Colo. -- Lance Armstrong embarked on a leisurely 50-mile charity bike ride Sunday, taking in the changing colors of the leaves and chatting with anyone who could keep up.

In keeping with his style, the seven-time Tour de France winner is focused on his fight against cancer, leaving the fight for his reputation to his legal team as prosecutors examine his past as part of a federal investigation into drug use in pro cycling.

Armstrong took part in the inaugural benefit bike ride for Wapiyapi, a nonprofit organization that provides camps, retreats and support to families affected by childhood cancer.

It's a cause near to him after fighting back from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. He also was nudged to do the Aspen event by his girlfriend, Anna Hansen, who's a longtime volunteer for the organization.

"Obviously, it's every parent's worst nightmare to have a sick child," said Hansen, who's expecting the couple's second child on Oct. 24, and Armstrong's fifth. "With healing, there's so much more than what takes place in the hospital."

Hansen chased around their nearly 16-month-old son, Max, as she waited for Armstrong to finish. She said Armstrong is focusing on family and causes these days, not anything else.

"I think you're always going to have people that are negative and haters and trying to spin stories to get attention or money," she said. "I think you have to focus on the positive. That's kind of what we've been trying to do is focus on family and devoting our time to causes we care about -- like this."

On a cool, crisp morning, with the starting temperature of 36 degrees, Armstrong cruised through the course, but not before stopping at the Maroon Bells -- a set of picturesque peaks -- and taking photos with children who've been affected by cancer.

He finished the ride in around 2½ hours, signed autographs, took photos and then hopped back on his bike and took off.

Armstrong was heading back to Austin, Texas, after an arduous week.

He was in San Francisco last Monday to visit a hospital and then appeared in New York City two days later for the Clinton Global Initiative where he headlined a panel on cancer in the developing world.

While that was going on, a longtime friend of Armstrong's told a federal grand jury Wednesday that she never heard the cyclist admit he used performance-enhancing drugs, her attorney said. Stephanie McIlvain appeared before the jury as it heard evidence connected to allegations of doping in professional cycling.

Even with the investigation, Armstrong certainly hasn't shied away from the public eye, keeping his 2.65 million Twitter followers updated on everything he does.

In one of his latest entries, he explained how "awesome" the Wapiyapi event was.

Earlier in the week, he posted a picture of the changing leaves while hiking in the area with his young son.

Len Zanni was one of the riders charged with trying to keep up with Armstrong during the event. They talked about family, biking and business on their brisk excursion.

Mostly business, though.

Armstrong recently joined the ownership team of Honey Stinger, the makers of honey-based nutritional foods, and wanted to know how the new product, the Armstrong inspired Stinger Waffle, was coming along. Zanni, who works for the company, was only happy to enlighten him.

"I've always been amazed at his capacity for different events and staying fit, his children -- how he balances that," said Zanni, who's ridden with Armstrong in the past, including on the team that won the 12 Hours of Snowmass event two years ago. "It's pretty impressive. It shows us all we have a lot more energy somewhere in there."

Asked about the investigation hanging over Armstrong's head and if he's noticed any affect, Zanni said, "He's just the same guy -- waving to everyone on the course, having a good time out there today."

The event drew 300 riders and raised about $200,000 for Wapiyapi, which runs summer camps and retreats for sick kids. The organization had 125 kids participate last year and another 35 on a waiting list.

"It's a whole different world now for us," said Aaron Smith, the executive director of the organization. "To see it come true is just over the moon."

Hansen helped out with Wapiyapi for a while, hooked after attending a camp. That's why she suggested the event to Armstrong, whom she met while working in Vail and helping another nonprofit group, First Descents, which assists young adults with cancer through outdoor adventures.

"That's the beauty of grass roots fundraising, people just pool together," she said.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press