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Page last updated at 19:18 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 20:18 UK

Armstrong's Paisley peloton

Armstrong does 'Tour de Paisley'

By Keir Murray

The last time I was in Paisley High Street it was for an exhibition of the works of the town's famous artist and comic playwright John Byrne.

On one of the displays was a quote from Byrne joking that, as a child, he always knew he lived in a special place because missionaries used to be sent over from Africa to help the people in his particular area.

The missionaries must have sent back favourable reports all those years ago for today there arrived a sporting terms, that is.

On Monday evening Lance Armstrong wrote the following on Twitter: "Hey Glasgow, Scotland!! I'm coming your way tomorrow. Who wants to go for a bike ride??"

Then in the early hours of the morning, there came another "Tweet", which said: "Hey Glasgow - group ride starts at Ashtree House Hotel. 9 Orr Square. Paisley, Scotland. See you there at noon!!"

From his 1,750,000 "followers" on the social networking site, word got out to the Scottish cycling fraternity and about 200 of their number and a throng of onlookers came to herald the seven-time Tour de France winner's arrival.

There was little chance of this ever being a quiet ride around Paisley's Gleniffer Braes.

Lance Armstrong in Paisley
Armstrong brought Paisley town centre to a standstill

Like a scene from the Paris-Roubaix classic, the cyclists huddled in the rain in the steep cobbled street.

They tip-toed around the slippy surface in their cycling shoes, chatting to friends, excited, intrigued and without any idea of where their bike ride with 37-year-old Armstrong might take them, or at what sort of pace.

Surveyor Alan Thomson, 28, of Glasgow Couriers Cycling Club, managed to escape from his Glasgow office at 10am to cycle the ten miles through the rain to Paisley.

"It's like being asked to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods," said Thomson.

"My boss realised it was the chance of a lifetime and he knows what a keen cyclist I am, so he said I could get away.

"I was in a meeting and I managed to nip off."

Just after midday, Scotland's former world hour record champion Graeme Obree arrived on his bike.

As puzzled as everyone else, Obree said: "I just came to see what this was all about. It should be good fun."

It transpired that Armstrong was stopping over in Scotland for the U2 concert at Hampden Park - vying with Celtic v Arsenal as Glasgow's biggest event of the evening - on his way to compete in the Tour of Ireland.

Among the eager bunch of cyclists were Gary Murray, 43, of Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade Cycling Club, and his friend Malcolm Bertram, 30.

Murray was on night shift and came straight through to the west coast when he got off duty.

"It's a great chance to follow a legend of cycling. We weren't going to miss it," said Murray.

Another in the group was Rita Montgomery, who won the British Women's Team Championship in the 1960s and twice clinched the Masters World Championship in Austria.

With her friends from Dooleys Cycles Racing Team, Bob Taylor and Tam Gordon, Montgomery came along in full cycling kit to go for a spin with Armstrong.

Still out on her bike every day, she thought she had seen it all in her 78 years, all but the earliest of those on two wheels.

But Montgomery looked astonished at the events taking place in her home patch.

And how great was it that the Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree came out?? Legend.

Lance Armstrong on Twitter

"It's great to see so many Scottish cyclists paying him such respect," she said.

Taylor told me: "Cycling has been ignited by Chris Hoy. I mean, just look at the turn-out here. Lance has done so much for charity and his passion for cycling is so tremendous that we had to be here. He's a class act."

As the police did their best to keep the traffic moving along the street, Armstrong arrived and opened up the boot of his car to get ready for his bike ride.

The fans jostled for position and the cyclists clicked their shoes into their pedals. It wasn't a hoax after all. There was Lance Armstrong on his Trek bike on Paisley's High Street.

Such was the scrum and tangle of bikes, umbrellas and microphones that an unfortunate couple were unable to get past the "peloton" to get to Paisley's crematorium.

A police officer yelled: "Move over to the side of the road! A car needs to get through to a funeral!"

But his plea fell on deaf ears. The only solution was for Armstrong to get on his bike and lead the ride out of town.

As the crowd cheered, the cyclists headed east, leaving bystanders open-mouthed.

Scottish cycling legend Graeme Obree
Former world hour record holder Obree arrives at Armstrong's meeting point

Alex Sneddon, 41, resplendent in his yellow and black "Livestrong" jersey, was ecstatic after meeting his hero. "I'm not so much a cycling fan, I'm a Lance Armstrong fan! And I just shook his hand! Incredible!"

Having returned to his hotel after the ride, Armstrong wrote: "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!"

The twin powers of celebrity and technology had created a memorable moment for Scottish cycling fans.

But there were some things that even Lance Armstrong couldn't do anything about this afternoon. As another of his Tweets put it:

"And yes, 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."

Perhaps the only cyclist who could have kept Armstrong in sight if the Texan had decided to pump a heavier gear would have been Obree. His presence didn't go unnoticed.

"And how great was it that the Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree came out?? Legend," wrote Armstrong.

When Lance Armstrong calls you a legend, you know you must have achieved something special in life.

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see also
Hundreds on Armstrong Tweet ride
18 Aug 09 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West

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