Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is expected to ride into Columbia early Saturday and leave a short time later, picking up about 1,300 cyclists for the final, 50-mile leg of the Tour of Hope bike ride to Washington.
Armstrong, 34, battled testicular cancer nine years ago and credits clinical trials with providing him with the advanced medicines and therapy to overcome the disease. After his cancer treatment, Armstrong went on to win the grueling Tour de France cycling race seven consecutive times. He retired from professional cycling after his seventh win in July.
Armstrong has been active in fundraising for cancer research since 1997, when he established the Lance Armstrong Foundation, based in Austin. In addition to the foundation's work, since 2003 Armstrong and pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb have staged the cross-country bike ride, known as the Tour of Hope, to raise money for and awareness of treating cancer. In the past two years, the tour has raised $2 million, said Colleen M. O'Malley, a spokesman for the event.
Armstrong began this year's 3,300-mile ride last Thursday in San Diego with 24 cancer survivors, researchers and caregivers. Among those making the cross-country trip are Montgomery County medical researcher Keith Bellizzi, 35, and Annapolis fisheries biologist Christopher Millard, 39, both cancer survivors.
"They've been training for months to make this happen," O'Malley said.
An online journal posted at the Tour of Hope Web site, www.tourofhope.org, provides a glimpse of the rigors of this journey for amateur cyclists.
"We started our day (Oct. 1) just outside Silver City, New Mexico with a 12-mile, Category 2 climb up to Emory pass and over the continental divide," wrote Bellizzi, a Montgomery Village resident who survived testicular and kidney cancer and who conducts cancer research for the National Institutes of Health.
"We were asked to make up an hour during this stage. Needless to say, our legs were burning and spinning hard as we averaged close to 30 mph on the flats."
The crowd for the final leg will begin gathering before dawn on the grounds of Howard Community College. Scheduled to join Armstrong for brief remarks at 6:30 a.m. are Peter R. Dolan, chief executive of Bristol-Meyers Squibb; John P. McDaniel, chief executive of Columbia-based MedStar Health; and Diane E. Schumacher, director of Howard Community College athletics.
Armstrong and participating riders are expected to leave Columbia at 7 a.m., then shortly afterward he will split off from the local riders and rejoin his 24-member cross-country team. The Columbia cyclists, who committed to raising a minimum of $500 each, will continue along local roads through southern Howard and into Montgomery County. Law enforcement officers and course marshals will be posted along the way to control traffic.
The 1,300 riders from Columbia will pick up 200 cyclists at Glen Echo Park, then follow MacArthur Boulevard into Washington. The tour's finale will be held on the Ellipse in front of the White House, with Armstrong and his team scheduled to arrive about noon.