Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong, beater of odds, didn't have a chance yesterday.
A 50-mile fundraising bike ride that Armstrong was to lead - and which was to provide a victorious finale to a cross-country bike tour to raise awareness about cancer - ended unceremoniously early yesterday morning when the weather prompted authorities to call off what had been billed as a rain-or-shine event. The fundraising ride will not be rescheduled.
But floods, darkness and disappointment could not stop the crowds. Hundreds of the 1,400 would-be riders and their supporters showed up at a waterlogged parking lot in Columbia for the event that wasn't.
It was still dark out when a procession of bike-toting cars created a traffic jam at the entrance to Howard Community College.
Hundreds of Armstrong fans slogged through the downpour in stretch bike shorts, slickers and umbrellas and waited patiently for the seven-time Tour de France winner to make a promised appearance.
"We actually ordered sun and temperatures of 75 degrees," Armstrong said when he finally stepped onto the temporary stage. "But someone wasn't listening."
Yesterday's event was the culmination of the 2005 Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope, a California-to-Washington ride that 24 cancer survivors, researchers, caregivers and doctors undertook to raise the public's awareness of clinical trials and other cancer-related issues. The riders, who range in age from 28 to 58, have all been affected by cancer.
As rains let up, Armstrong made an appearance later in the day at an end-of-race event in Washington.
Armstrong, a cancer survivor who said yesterday that fighting the disease is a priority for him now that he has retired from racing, had joined the team of 24 for sections of the nine-day, 3,300-mile relay-style ride that began in San Diego.
He had also planned to ride part of the 50-mile course from Howard County to Washington with the 1,400 enthusiasts who were required to raise money in order to participate, and who together raised $1.4 million. That money will be donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation and other cancer-fighting organizations.
"As much as I wanted to get a chance to ride with Lance, it's not about that. It's about raising money for this cause," said Dan Bruneau, 49, of Columbia, who was there in honor of his wife, a cancer survivor, and his mother, who died of the disease.
Gregg Gleichert, 57, flew in from Wisconsin to also join the fundraising ride. "We drove the route yesterday and already, there were parts that were flooded. It would have been dangerous," he said. "I still was going to do it, though."
He and his daughter, Christine Gleichert, 31, a Washington resident who was there to support him, were planning to drink champagne at a celebratory dinner that night anyway, he said. After that, he expected to pack up his bicycle, bring it back to UPS and fly home.
As the rain swept down and the road near him starting to look more like a stream, he managed to sound a cheery note.
"If they do it again next year," he said, "I'll try it."