A Ride in Paisley…
ABC News’ Samantha Fields reports from London:
It was casual as could be.
“Hey Glasgow, Scotland!!” Lance Armstrong posted on his Twitter page late Monday night. “I’m coming your way tomorrow. Who wants to go for a bike ride??”
Stuart Fraser, who lives just outside Glasgow, saw it and thought, “yeah right,” he said. “Paisley’s not known for its tourist attractions. It seems an odd place for him to go.”
Then, early Tuesday morning, Armstrong laid out the details. “Hey Glasgow – group ride starts at Ashtree House Hotel. 9 Orr Square. Paisley, Scotland. See you there at noon!!”
So Fraser, 22, and a bunch of friends decided they might as well check it out — just in case. So did nearly 300 other people, many of whom had taken the day off work. It was, after all, a Tuesday afternoon.
It was pouring, too, and as they stood around waiting, many in the crowd were afraid Armstrong – if he even showed up – would decide not to go through with the ride.
But when the seven-time Tour de France champion pulled up outside the hotel and got out, just after 12:30 p.m., he was ready to roll.
There was just one thing: “Lance and his crew had no idea where to go,” said Alan Thomson, a 28-year-old surveyor in Glasgow who cycles competitively. Because he and his friends were standing up front, and because they’re locals, they got to put together the route for what has now been dubbed the “Tour de Paisley.” It’s a ride they do frequently during the winter months.
“It was pretty incredible,” said Thomson, who’s followed Armstrong’s career for years. “It was quite surreal, because you’re used to seeing him in the TV and blogs… when he’s actually sitting beside you, talking to you, you can’t even believe it.”
Armstrong seemed a bit surprised by the dozens of cameras, and the size of the crowd waiting for him outside the Ashtree. “I mean you expect a few people to show up, but not the dozens of cameras,” he told the crowd of reporters gathered around, before heading out. “But that’s the cool thing about this new generation of media, where you can reach out to people and say ‘hey.’”
In town for the U2 concert at Hampden Park, before heading off to compete in the three-day Tour of Ireland, Armstrong decided, “hey, let’s do a bike ride!”
With less than a day’s notice, people of all ages and abilities turned out to ride with Armstrong — including world famous Scottish cyclist, Graeme Obree.
“Had he given more notice,” said Thomson, “I reckon he’d have had thousands there. I think we were pretty lucky.”
The group rode for about 90 minutes, at a decent pace, covering 25 or 30 miles. It was chaotic at firs t, Fraser said, with a couple hundred people all jockeying for position around Armstrong, but after a couple of hills, the group had been whittled down to around 40 people.
That, for those who remained, was the best part, said John Anderson, a 49-year-old who’s been cycling seriously for the past 5 years.
“It was fantastic,” said Anderson. “I really enjoyed it, and he seemed to enjoy it too.”
Just hours after the ride, Armstrong confirmed that on Twitter, writing: “Thanks to everyone who turned up to ride in Paisley! I figured we’d have a nice ride for a dozen or so. But 100′s came. Haha! Awesome!”
“And yes,” he added, in another tweet — having maxed out his 140 characters in the previous one — “next time I’ll try to bring some sun. You bring the translator (Scottish to Texan) and I’ll bring the rays. Seriously, thanks again.”
Armstrong also seemed thrilled that Obree, who twice broke the world hour record — for the longest distance cycled in an hour –, had been along for the ride. “And how great was it that the Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree came out?? Legend.”
Hours later on the way to the U2 concert after a nap, Armstrong wrote again, “Still buzzing from the ride 2day. Loved it.”
For those who were there, it’s a memory that’s still just starting to sink in. “Last night when I got home, I pretty much couldn0t believe it happened,” said Thomson. “I think people in Scotland will be talking about this for years to come.”
Apparently sometimes it does pay off to follow celebrities on Twitter.