I still admire Armstrong, says Portuguese rider

Shimla, Sep 27 (IANS) "I still admire (ace rider) Lance Armstrong." That was first reaction of Titan desert MTB Marathon champion Luis Leao Pinto, who was here Friday to participate with another top rider Ricardo Rodrigues Martins of Portugal in one of the world's toughest mountain biking rallies to be held in Himachal Pradesh.

"You can't take away his achievements," Pinto remarked on being asked by IANS about the disgrace the cyclist brought to the sport using an array of performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his seven Tour de France victories.

"Now doping is not possible with so many checks," the rider said.

Pinto said he loves to pedal in the Himalayan ranges.

Portuguese national champion Pinto, ranked ninth in the world and seeded sixth in Europe, and his fellow rider Martins, who is ranked 16th in the world, will be among 74 foreign and Indian participants of the 'Discovery Montra MTB-2013'.

Mohit Sood, president of the organising Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), said that both are marking their debut in an Asian biking event.

Billed as the third toughest mountain biking event in the world after the Trans-Alps Challenge (Europe) and Trans-Rockies (Canada), the mountain biking event will be flagged off from the state capital Saturday.

Sood said 84 bikers, including 16 foreigners, would take part in the seven-day event, ninth in the series.

The defence forces, which have been participating in the event since 2006, have sent the largest contingent of 21 participants.

"The government should extend financial support to clubs like us so that we can get more international exposure and bring this race to the world's top three races," Sood said.

He said the Himalayas have a lot of potential and would be host to world championship in mountain biking.

During the rally, participants, both men and women, will pass through forest trails and unmetalled and metalled rural roads, winding through Shimla district.

The length of the route has been increased to 500 km from last year's 438 km.

The highest point of the rally will be the 3,300-metre Hatu peak, overlooking the tourist destination of Narkanda, some 65 km from Shimla. On an average, a cyclist will pedal about 70 km daily.

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