HAINES CITY, Fla.>> Kevin Davenport arrived at the Ironman 70.3 Florida on Sunday more than an hour before the triathlon.
He drove from St. Augustine, Fla., with his wife, Heather, and daughter, Reaghin. He came to see his hero.
A kidney-cancer survivor and triathlete, Davenport, 45, wanted to catch a glimpse of Lance Armstrong.
“I’m really not normally like this, but we figured this might be the only time we actually get to be within a few feet of him,” said Davenport, who did not race.
Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion, won the men’s pro division and completed the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run at Lake Eva Park in 3 hours, 45 minutes, 38 seconds.
Armstrong, 40, won a national sprint triathlon championship in North Miami Beach when he was 19.
“Maybe Florida is good,” Armstrong said. “The sport of cycling borrowed me for a couple decades, and now I’ve come back to my roots.”
Haines City Chief of Police Richard Sloan estimated the triathlon drew 6,000 to 8,000 spectators.
As Armstrong finished the race, an estimated 1,000 people surrounded the finish line and cheered him as he came down the stretch. Armstrong high-fived several fans in his final few strides.
Almost everyone along the railing at the finish had his camera or phone out to take pictures.
Among the throng cheering Armstrong was Davenport, who said he and his family were inspired by a number of books about most famous endurance athlete ever.
“On the way up here, I was saying to myself, ’My little boy is all grown up,’ because when you read his book, you feel like you’re his parent or his guardian,” said Reaghin Davenport, 13. “He’s like family.”
Ryan Garza, who survived testicular cancer in 2008, and girlfriend Maria Sanchez were decked out in LIVESTRONG gear—synonymous with Armstrong’s foundation for cancer research—as they lined the beach during the swim.
“I came out with only one lung, and he inspired me,” said Garza, who plans to run his first half-marathon in November.
“There’s 2,000 athletes here doing the exact same thing Lance Armstrong did,” race director Tom Ziebart said. “That helped us a lot in marketing the race to some people that might not have come if he was not racing.”
Armstrong emerged from the swim in fourth place. He excelled on the bike, as expected, and entered the run with a sizable lead. He finished more than 11 minutes ahead of runner-up Maxim Kriat of Clermont, Fla. Jessica Jacobs of Green Bay, Wis., won the women’s division in 4:24:30.
“It feels good,” Armstrong said. “I can’t lie that I didn’t want to come back to the sport and win some races.”
Sunday was Armstrong’s fourth Ironman 70.3 in the past three months. He finished second in Panama, seventh in Texas and third in St. Croix. Armstrong will compete in the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii on June 2 and indicated he would return to Haines City next year.
“I had a heck of a time, and I look forward to coming back,” he said.