He is at the pinnacle of his sport. With six consecutive Tour de France wins, Lance Armstrong will complete this year’s 2,241-mile ride and retire from professional cycling. For those concerned about his conditioning for this year’s race, Tuesday’s stage seemed to settle any remaining doubts. Taking advantage of the final climb of the day, Armstrong pulled away from many of his supposed rivals to reclaim the yellow jersey as the overall race leader.
There are many reasons to cheer the American cycling legend in his last journey. Armstrong showed athletic promise at an early age. In his early teenage years he competed in triathlons and swimming events and eventually began to concentrate on cycling.
The problem with Armstrong in the early years is that he lacked discipline. Rather than utilize sound strategy in competitive cycling, he would start races too aggressively with little energy left by the end of the race.
Despite these rough edges, Armstrong did enjoy results. In 1991, he became the U.S. amateur champion and, by 1993, he was the youngest man ever to win a stage in the Tour de France.
Things changed for Lance in 1996. At 25 years of age, he announced that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. The cancer had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. He required numerous surgeries and aggressive chemotherapy. His principal oncologist, Craig Nichols, commented in a New Yorker story that, “At that point, he had a minority chance of living another year.”
But Armstrong beat cancer and came back to cycling. Despite harboring thoughts of quitting, largely due to training experiences in North Carolina, he was mentally prepared for a comeback.
His ascent in the cycling world is known to even non-sports aficionados. Almost everyone knows how to ride a bike and can imagine, through the coverage of races like the Tour de France, the level of difficulty involved.
While technological advances have brought changes to different aspects of cycling, it is easy to understand why Lance Armstrong has dominated: He pedals harder and faster than his rivals.
Armstrong’s story of cancer survival also brings him in touch with people from all walks of life. According to the Lance Armstrong Foundation Web site, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. His foundation, with numerous fundraising ventures and an estimated 50 million “LiveSTRONG” bracelets sold, has raised over $50 million for cancer research and support.
Anyone with this sort of public image is destined to be plagued by rumors of scandal. Armstrong, one of the most-tested professional athletes, has been dogged by allegations of doping although no test has ever found such a result. As reported by The New Yorker, “The World Anti-Doping Agency, which regularly tests athletes, has even appeared at his home, in Austin, Texas, at dawn, to demand a urine sample.”
Certainly there have been doping problems in cycling, just as in other sports. But could it be possible, though not a tabloid-selling headline, that in addition to his physiological differences, Lance just plain works harder than the rest of his competitors? He incessantly studies the routes, trains and weighs his food to ensure peak performance condition.
In addition to doping allegations, Lance’s much-publicized divorce from wife Kristin, with whom he had three children, and his relationship with Sheryl Crow have received mixed reactions. Many relationships end in failure. Should that really have an effect on what Lance has achieved? Furthermore, in his defense, Armstrong’s dedication to his children has caused him to skip races and is often cited as one of the reasons for his retirement.
Armstrong will ride into cycling retirement a legend whether he rides into Paris with the yellow jersey or not. He has indicated his desire to remain active with his foundation, whose mission is “to inspire and empower people with cancer to live strong.” He has even insinuated that the Texas governorship wouldn’t be a bad aim.
Whatever his choices, Lance serves as an inspiration to all who follow his success, both on and off the bike. As his trainer Chris Carmichael told him when he made his comeback on those training rides in North Carolina, “Go, Lance, go!”
Aaron Hill is a seniormajoring in firstname.lastname@example.org