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Lance Armstrong visits Griffith Park

September 10, 2009 | 10:16 am


It started as a tweet from one of the world's greatest cyclists:

"Hey LA - get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride. 7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, LA Zoo parking lot. See you there.." Lance Armstrong wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

The message spread quickly, and when 19-year-old Richard Ponce of Silver Lake saw it online, he immediately got on the phone and called his friends to join.

"I've been following Lance Armstrong, and he's always been a hero to me," Ponce said this morning, perched atop his yellow bicycle in the zoo's parking lot. "He comes to L.A., brings everybody together."

Sure enough, hundreds of people turned out this morning to ride for an hour alongside the seven-time Tour de France winner in Griffith Park. Some woke up early and drove to Los Angeles from San Diego and other Southern California cities. Others, such as Ponce, live just a few minutes away.

Armstrong arrived at the parking lot a few minutes after 7:30 a.m. and was surrounded by cyclists hoping for autographs and a handshake, and news crews hoping to catch the athlete on camera before he sped off.

"It's mayhem; it's crazy," said Dave White, 27, of Burbank. "I'm looking for an autograph."

In a black jersey and yellow helmet, Armstrong led the group through three loops around a section of the park. Not everyone at Griffith Park knew what was happening. As the cyclists went by and photographers positioned themselves along the route, onlookers wondered about the commotion.

"Did you hear this? Lance Armstrong is coming by!" one woman, who said she was visiting from New York, told a friend near the Wilson-Harding Management Center. "What?" the friend asked. "Lance Armstrong is coming by! That's why all the photographers are here," the first woman said.

Most riders said they wanted to get a glimpse of Armstrong, the man they had seen so often on television but seldom, if ever, in person.

Some said he had inspired them with his story of battling cancer. Margaret McGlynn, 44, said she is on a Disney triathlon team and trains on her bicycle in the area about twice a week.

McGlynn said she went to see him "because he's awesome," but also because members of her family had been diagnosed with cancer in the last year. She held up her wrist, which sported a yellow Livestrong bracelet.

The ride ended about 8:30 a.m. and most of the cyclists, after trying to get an autograph at the end of the ride, talked of beginning their days and going to work.

Armstrong said he enjoyed the event, and joked that a couple of the cyclists had given him a "hurt on the climb" up a hill.

"It was good," he said. "Be back soon."

A little later, he sent out another tweet:

"Great ride in Griffith Park. Thanks, LA!" he wrote. "... Off to Montreal ..."

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz in Griffith Park

Photo: Lance Armstrong, in the center of the pack with a yellow and black helmet, leads hundreds of riders around Griffith Park. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times