SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. -- Lance Armstrong charged up Fanny Hill on his mountain bike as if this were the Pyrenees.
This, however, was the inaugural 12 Hours of Snowmass race. But if Armstrong has his way it won't be too long before he's in the Pyrenees again, bidding for an eighth Tour de France crown.
Armstrong recently announced his intention of riding in the Tour in 2009. The 36-year-old cancer survivor is gearing up with races such as this steep ascent.
"We're just getting it going now," said Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's longtime coach. "For the next few months, it's just about riding, spending as much time on the bike as he can."
Armstrong was part of a three-man squad Sunday -- named Team Livestrong after his foundation -- that also included Max Taam and Len Zanni. Each takes a lap and then switches off. The winning team completes the most laps in 12 hours.
Team Livestrong won over Team Beaver Creek with both teams completing 17 laps, but Livestrong finished 6 minutes, 39 seconds faster.
"The first half, I had fun. The second half, it started to be not fun," Armstrong said with a grin.
Carmichael said Armstrong is coming back after careful consideration. His competitive fire began to return after a mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo., last month.
"He fell in love with bike racing again," Carmichael said. "This is the life he knows, the world he knows."
Can he win an eighth title?
"I wouldn't bet against him," Carmichael said. "There's only one Lance. There's no one who has the intensity, the perseverance, the dedication."
Armstrong said his goal isn't so much about winning an eighth title, but promoting cancer awareness.
"The most important issue is taking the global epidemic of cancer to a much bigger stage," said Armstrong, who turns 37 on Thursday. "The best way to do that is to race the bike all over the world."
Still, the competitor in him wouldn't allow a return if he didn't think he could be a factor -- even if he's been retired for the last three years.
"I still feel healthy enough and fit enough to go and perhaps be competitive," said Armstrong, who recently purchased a house in Aspen. "I can't make any guarantees."
Carmichael said Armstrong has contacted the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about designing a blood test specifically for him to erase any doubts about doping.
"I know he's clean. He's never doped and never will dope," Carmichael said. "The problem with performances these days -- anytime an athlete does something exceptional, everybody looks at it as suspect. ... If Lance comes back and wins the Tour and has absolute transparency in drug testing and people are then still speculating, they're either ignorant or jealous."
Armstrong doesn't feel like he has to prove anything on the doping front, but taking part in a comprehensive program won't hurt.
"I never cheated," he said. "I'm not going to cheat in '01, I'm not going to cheat in '09, that's not going to change. We'll be able to validate it. We couldn't validate it in '01. You had to try to prove a negative. They said, 'You have something we can't find. You're sneakier, smarter than the other guys.' That's a very hard thing to work against."
Taylor Phinney, fresh off his first Olympics, cheered Armstrong from the side of the mountain trail. He was invited to train with Armstrong for a few days.
"He wanted to take me under his wing, which is super cool for me," Phinney said. "I'm just up here learning as much as I can. He's the godfather of cycling."
Phinney says Armstrong is just what the Tour needs.
"There wasn't anybody who took control and was the clear winner of the Tour," he said. "What Lance did every year, he just destroyed everybody and made it clear that he was the guy. I think he's still got it. I'm excited to see what happens."
Now he just needs to find a team. Last week, cycling journal VeloNews reported on its Web site that Armstrong would compete with the Astana team in the Tour.
But there are no guarantees Astana will race in the 2009 Tour. Race officials kept the team out this year because of previous doping violations.
"It's still getting put together," Carmichael said. "That [Astana] is looking like the best one."
Armstrong was second to Jay Henry of Team Beaver Creek on his first run through the course Sunday.
Afterward, he sat down for a brief break, a crowd gathering to snap photos. He then hopped up, got back on his bike and coasted back to his hotel to rest up for his next turn.
That was a familiar theme for Armstrong, who used the hotel breaks to rest, watch some football and munch on Nutella and banana sandwiches.
Armstrong arrived in Snowmass Village on Saturday after spending time in Canada as part of a cancer fundraising ride.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press