Au revoir, Monsieur Lance

This column may be a week old (I was too busy “soaking in” the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, but talking about Lance Armstrong can never get stale like a loaf of bread in the kitchen of someone on the Atkins’ diet.
Unless you’ve had your head stuck in a gopher hole, then you undoubtedly heard about Armstrong winning his seventh-straight Tour de France title two weeks ago.
And if you did have your head stuck in a gopher hole, well, now you know of the news that is worth mentioning in spades for years to come.
Why you ask? Why should we care about some cocky, brash Texan who pedalled a two-wheeler for a living? Because he’s worth it.
And here’s why.
For six hours, the surgeon scraped tumours from Armstrong’s brain in 1996. Once the delicate operation was over, and as the anesthetic was wearing off, the doctor checked whether his knife had done lasting damage by asking the patient his name.
“Lance Armstrong,” came the reply, according to his best-selling autobiography, “It’s Not About the Bike.” “And I can kick your [butt] on a bike every day.”
Rarely, if ever, has sport seen a champion like the headstrong Texan who came back from the brink of death to put a seven-year stranglehold on cycling’s most prestigious and taxing race—culminating with his triumph that sent him victoriously into retirement.
And he did it convincingly.
He won the 2005 Tour de Frances by four minutes, 40 seconds, which makes this one the most dominant of his seven. Yes, seven! Seven titles at a race that is three full weeks with cyclists covering 3,577 km and racing all but two of the 22 days.
In the latter stages, after the time trials held at all-out, butt-busting speed, the race traverses the kind of hills—nay, mountains—that I wouldn’t even want to drive up.
And winning seven—two more than anyone else in the history of the sport? Now that’s just stupid.
And this was on a course that officials supposedly had Lance-proofed the way golf courses are Tiger Woods-proofed. They eliminated one of the longer time trials Armstrong usually owns.
It didn’t matter.
They did away with several of the mountain summit finishes he dominates. Didn’t matter.
He lost one key teammate before the race and one during. Didn’t matter.
But if cancer didn’t beat the 33-year-old Texan, is it any wonder that Armstrong’s Tour de France rivals barely stood a chance?
Really, no.
So why leave now? Why depart when he can (easily) still win two or three more titles? Why get off the bike when he could make so much more money?
The answer is this: Underneath all the bravado, underneath the thick skin, there beats a heart of a father.
“Daddy, can we go home and play?” his son, Luke, said after the podium ceremony.
He has three kids he hasn’t been able to spend time with. Has a rock star girlfriend—Sheryl Crow (lucky guy)—that he rarely gets to see perform. And who is to blame? Us, that’s who.
Through seven years, Armstrong fretted and suffered. Put in the time in the wind tunnel, re-conned the mountains, weighed his food, sacrificed his time and family—so we wouldn’t have to.
And as he got strong, we got stronger, as well. If he could battle back from cancer and not only survive, but thrive, then we could, too.
More than 40 million people on this Earth have “LIVE STRONG” yellow plastic bands wrapped around their wrists, with every penny of its $1 purchase going to cancer research (you can order them by going to
And each one of those purchasers has either done, is doing, or is going to do something that they probably wouldn’t have been able to do without looking at those two capitalized words—over $85 million has been raised for cancer research by the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
We went along for the ride and it was glorious while it lasted. We shared in his moments because he let us share in them. From his humble beginnings, Armstrong grew into a man of many facets:
•a divorced man with a rock star girlfriend;
•a hard-driving boss who nurtured grudges against other riders but was able to relax over a cold beer with them;
•an ardent cancer campaigner who credited the disease with helping him win the Tour by reshaping him physically and mentally;
•a consummate professional who finished last in his first pro race; and
•a Tour champion with a rage to win with a backward glance.
And there were other sweet moments—like this year’s “The Catch.” His victim, as usual, was Jan Ullirch, who won the ’97 Tour at age 23 and was once Armstrong’s chief rival, but had now developed into something like a foil.
Halfway through the Tour’s first stage, a 19-km time trial on the Atlantic Coast, bad news came through the German racer’s earpiece: Armstrong, who’d rolled down the ramp a minute after him, was closing.
Ullirch, still one of the strongest riders in the world, had never been overtaken in a time trial. Here he was, on a flat, straight course that favoured him—and losing to a man two years older and with only one testicle, and who’d gotten a late start on his Tour preparation since Armstrong had decided late on coming back for the final time.
A mile or so later, Armstrong blew Ullrich’s doors off, passing him without so much as a glance—a figurative neutering from which Ullirch never recovered.
There have been other moments. So many that it would take a mini-series to encompass them all.
But now the hangover.
“I am ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine percent sure,” Armstrong told the Associated Press when asked if he’s sure that he’ll never return.
But it sure was wonderful while it lasted.

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