Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lance Armstrong

I wasn't planning on writing much about Lance Armstrong. What could I say that other much more literate and interesting writers will get paid to write. But then I remember why I started blogging. Not so that other people could read my words, but so I could, and maybe someday my kids will also.

Then it hit me. Lance Armstrong retired today becasue he wants to spend more time with his children. I can't think of a better reason to stop doing something that you are good at, and that you love doing.

People, myself included, have admired Lance's determination and his refusal to lose in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds. They (I) respect him for the work he does for those who aren't as fortunate as he is. As sports fans we follow his exploits on the bicycle. We marvel at the ease with which he is able to ride down, and past his competition. As human beings we are moved by the story of his life. Growing up without a father, just starting into his professional career and to be struck down with cancer, then to recover and retrain his body to perform at a level that drives him to be the best in his field.

There have been so many exploits of Lance's career that will make people remember him. From his U.S. National Amateur Champion in 1991 to his seventh Tour de France win in 2005. Lance finished 14th in the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. In 1993 he won 10 races including the World Championship, the U.S. Pro Championship, and a stage victory in the Tour de France. In 1996 Lance started the year as the number one ranked cyclist in the world. He defended his Tour Du Pont Championship and was the first American to win the classic Fleche Wallone in Belgium. In October he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The rest we all know, he survived the cancer which had spread to his lungs and brain. Then he rejoined the world of cycling and became the only man to ever win 7 consecutive Tours de France.

There are events in the tour that people will forever stand out in people's minds as Lance's greatest moments. Some of my favorites are:

1995 - Stage 18 - Lance Armstrong crosses the finish line in Limoges with both index fingers pointed towards the sky honoring his fallen teammate and friend Fabio Casartelli.

2001 - Stage 13. Ullrich is riding hard trying to get himself moved up out of 4th place in the GC. Lance is marking him close to make sure that he doesn't gain any time on him. Suddenly Ullrich goes over the edge of the road and summersaults with his bike. Armstrong slows down and makes the other attackers slow down. Riding slowly they wait until Ullrich catches up. Once Ullrich recovers Lance and Ullrich continue their assault up the hill. Lance is leading the way to the finish line when he sits down and lets Ullrich take the 8 second time bonus - the edge he needed to get into third place. When asked why he waited Lance replied "I chose to wait - it's not fair to take advantage of a situation like that,"

2003 - Stage 9 - Lance following Joseba Beloki in a frantic descent with the two of them chasing breakaway Alexander Vinokourov, Beloki suddenly goes down hard. Lance swerves to the right and goes cross country through a mown hay field. He ends up cutting across the field, getting off his bike, jumping a small irrigation ditch with his bike in hand and rejoined the downhill run.

2005 - Stage 5 - This is the only day that Lance had to be coaxed and threatened to wear the yellow jersey. Lance won the jersey yesterday when David Zabriskie crashed in the team time trial. Lance who was never one to take advantage of a competitor who had crashed showed up for the race in his team jersey saying that he didn't feel that he had earned the jersey and so was chosing not to wear it that day. At the official race start the orgainizers had to stop the race and force Armstrong under threat of disqualification to wear the yellow jersey.

2005 - The podium in Paris. Lance takes his children on the podium with him. Then he credits Ullrich and Basso for being great competitors and friends. Then he expresses his regret at the loss to anyone who doesn't love and appreciate cycling for being the great sport that it is.

Lance gave us so many great moments during his professional racing career that I could go on forever. I think the most complementary thing I can think to say about Lance Armstrong is this:

Lance Armstrong has been a consummate champion on and off the bike. A gracious loser and a humble winner, he has never done or said anything to make me feel shy about telling friends of his exploits nor embarrassed to be a fan of his.

Thank you Lance Armstrong! You've been a great inspriation, a great champion, and a joy to watch. Good luck in your next challenge - to be a great father.

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