MONTREAL – Lance Armstrong can still draw a crowd.
Hundreds of people came out in support of the controversial cyclist Wednesday in Montreal, where they chugged up Mont Royal with him in a fast-paced training run.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles recently after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency concluded he used banned substances.
The cancer survivor stunned the sports world by announcing he will no longer challenge the doping charges against him.
But many of the runners who charged up Mont Royal for nearly an hour with Armstrong said they support him, regardless of the controversies.
They said they still see him as an inspiration for those fighting cancer and lauded him for his successful charitable foundation.
“It’s more about the guy who conquered cancer and who raised more than $500 million for the cause,” Gabriel Laurin said before Armstrong arrived.
“That’s why I’m here.”
Armstrong, who was in Montreal to speak at the World Cancer Congress, sent out an open invitation Tuesday on his Twitter account, asking people to join him for the run.
He said he was surprised by how many people showed up.
“It was just a crazy idea,” Armstrong said when asked why he decided to throw out the invitation.
When he arrived at the park, Armstrong slipped through the crowd and hopped up on a park bench. He thanked the runners for meeting him and drew cheers from the group.
“Just one thing real quick: I have no idea where we’re going,” he said before being led out to the park’s gravel-covered path.
The stampede of runners kicked up clouds of grey dust on the trail, with Armstrong near the front of the pack sandwiched between dozens of people.
Several people running alongside him jostled with each other as they tried to snap photos of themselves beside him as the mass of bodies bobbed up the path.
At one point a TV camera operator dropped a large camera on the trail right in front of Armstrong, who nimbly hopped over it.
“That was an expensive drop,” Armstrong shouted as he continued running.
Gaston Mogollones said he stayed close to Armstrong for most of the run.
“He has a good pace, but we couldn’t see him because it was kind of like a wolf pack,” he said, referring to the runners who encircled Armstrong. “He’s a strong man.”
Mogollones said he’s aware of the doping controversy surrounding Armstrong, but he insisted it doesn’t matter to him. He’s more interested in what Armstrong has done for cancer research than the sporting side of the cyclist’s life.
“For me, it’s more important to do that than the sport,” he said.
Shortly after the run, Armstrong tweeted a message to his running partners: “Salut Montreal – Merci/Thanks for the run!! I had a blast.”