SNOWBASIN — The mere mention of his name drew smiles from competitors and cheers from spectators. His mere presence inspired — and sometimes amused — the hundreds of athletes vying for prizes in the XTERRA USA Championship.
When Lance Armstrong announced that he would compete in Saturday's championship at Snowbasin, he changed the profile of the race.
"We've known this sport is really cool for a long time, and just having him here to verify that was pretty awesome," said Melanie McQuaid, who won her fourth consecutive U.S. title Saturday. "It's great to have so many spectators out cheering today, and all the signs with our names on them were so cool. I love Ogden as well. It's a really fun event."
While McQuaid said she was grateful to be free from the frenzied crowd that followed Armstrong everywhere, others said they enjoyed the opportunity to compete against the seven-time Tour de France winner.
"I think he's a pretty amazing athlete," said Stew Johnson of Park City. "I've never met him in person, but it will be pretty awesome to be able to compare times with him."
Jeremy Smith joked about beating the cycling legend before the race.
"It's awesome," he said. "It's going to be awesome to be on the same course as an all-star professional athlete. It's going to be amazing."
Some were excited to see how Armstrong matched up with XTERRA's best like reigning world champion and U.S. champion Conrad Stoltz and Josiah Middaugh, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the standings, respectively.
"I think it's pretty awesome," said Tim Sandell of Colorado Springs. "I think it will be interesting to see how the guys who've been doing it forever will match up with him. I think he's still in for a lesson."
Middaugh said he was thrilled with the opportunity to compete against Armstrong.
"It was awesome," said Middaugh. "It definitely added to the event and made it more exciting."
Armstrong said before the race that he didn't expect to win, and in fact, had trouble sleeping for the first time in a while.
"I didn't sleep last night (or the night before)," he said, smiling. "I was nervous. I was trying to stay focused on what I had to do today just because I was freaked out that it had been so long."
He said the course was extremely difficult but said he'd "probably" do another XTERRA.
"Now's not the time to ask," he said laughing. "It was hard, very hard."
He didn't feel the kind of mental pressure that he dealt with in his storied cycling career.
"I didn't expect to win," he said. "I was just going out and do my best."
Competitors — and fans — would be happy to have him as regular part of the XTERRA culture.
Armstrong's answer to if and when another XTERRA Triathlon is in his future?