Throughout the majority of Sunday's main event, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Ben Jacques-Maynes led the pack of pro cyclists around the punishing 1.1-mile course at the 49th annual Nevada City Classic.
Fans comprising the largest crowd in years wondered aloud which of the Astana team riders would win. And could the "Bissell Team Guy" (Jacques-Maynes) pull off the upset by leaving two of world's top cyclists behind?
But with six laps to go, Armstrong answered that question with an emphatic "No."
Building nearly a 15-second advantage in the matter of a single lap, Armstrong left little doubt that he would be crowned the Nevada City Classic champion.
With each lap thereafter, the seven-time Tour de France winner only added to his advantage. And when he crossed the finish line for the final time, the battle for second place came more than 30 seconds later.
"I've got tot tell ya," Armstrong told the crowd after his win, "it damn sure made my Father's Day."
It was the first time Armstrong had raced Nevada City since 1991, when he finished second to Chris Huber.
"Nineteen years ago is a long time," he said. "I can remember being here and at the time it seemed a lot harder - not that today was easy. But I was a 20-year-old kid at the time and it was a very tough race. I was racing against pros and I was an amateur."
Though he was racing against some of the top domestic pros Sunday, including 2008 Nevada City champ Justin England and 1996 champion Chad Gerlach, Armstrong's ride to the title looked much easier than it was, he said.
Early in the race, Team Bissell's Graham Howard, who finished third in last year's race, led the first lap to win the race's initial prime prize. But by lap two Leipheimer leapt ahead and remained in the lead until the fifth time around the course, when Armstrong moved out front.
Shortly thereafter the three podium placers pulled away from the rest of the pack, lapping riders and weaving their way through traffic.
Jacques-Maynes, who was pleased with his runner-up ride, said he was surprised to find himself all alone with the likes of Leipheimer and Armstrong.
"I don't know exactly what happened," said Jacques-Maynes, who has raced Nevada City on several occasions. "I just kept responding. They were going hard right from the start and it just felt like we were bike racing. Then I looked back and there was no one behind me and I thought 'Uh oh, this could get bad real fast.'
"I think it was a forgone conclusion that one of those guys were going to win."
Gerlach, who made a return to Nevada City in his first year back on the bike after battling alcohol and drug addiction, won the overall championship at this week's Tour de Nez in Reno. Though he didn't earn a spot on the podium, the former Classic champion said he was pleased with his race Sunday. Although official results were not available at press time, Gerlach said he likely crossed the line in fifth or sixth place.
"The Truckee race was cool and on Friday night (in Reno) I jumped away from group of 14 guys and was like 'Oh my god!'" he said. "For me that was my best win since 1998.
"But today, Lance, Ben and Levi, those guys just took off. They're animals. They were in a league of their own."
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