Monday, July 12, 2010
End of an Era
Watching the bad luck of Lance Armstrong in yesterday's Alpine Stage 8 of the Tour de France, I felt bad for him. Past 5 time champions typically kept at the Tour de France until they had a tour like Lance is having now. When he broke that record and retired at the top of his game with 7 wins, it felt right. He was a unique champion and had the unique opportunity to walk away without that final fall from being at the top of his game.
Of course, as a fellow older athlete, I was as excited as the next guy to see him come back last year and surprise us all by staying in contention and reaching the podium in 3rd. The return of Lance and the ensuing controversy with Contador brought a whole new level of excitement and interest back to the Tour. But this year, Lance has to be the most unlucky rider in the peloton. First, losing time with a tire puncture on the pave in Stage 3, now three crashes in one hot and critical day in the French Alps. You could see his disgust and resignation in slowly pulling his bike out of that last slow motion wreck caused by a couple of Tour rookies from Euskatel who couldn't handle a simple feed bag hand-off. I can only wonder what he would have said to these guys if the TV cameras weren't focused on him.
A class act, Armstrong refused to complain about the other riders or his bad luck. He simply acknowledged that his chances for the overall lead were over. I can only hope that he will rebound after this rest day and dedicate his efforts in support of fellow American and faithful teammate Levi Leipheimer, the Team Radioshack member with the best chance to reach the podium this year. Who knows, perhaps Lance can still win a stage and give the spectators a chance to cheer and hail this great champion one last time as he finishes his last Tour de France.
Last night at 11:00 PM, I watched a replay of an old Alpine stage from 2001. It felt good to see this younger and stronger Lance dance on the peddles pulling away from Jan Ullrich and Joseba Beloki after looking around as if to ask "Is anyone coming with me?" All I could think of was "Wow, this guy was truly great."
My wife & I recalled following our first Tour coverage during a trip to Greece in 2000. I was loosely aware of each year's Tour, having an older cyclist brother, who had me following the Tour in newspapers way back when Eddy Merckx was the defending champion. But it was in getting up each morning in Greece and watching Lance in the 2000 Tour that I became hooked on the sport. I've followed it ever since.
It also occurs to me that one day will be my last marathon, ironman, or other long endurance event. At 51, I wonder how many more of these longer endurance events I can or want to have to gear up to do. I'll keep at it for now, but I can feel the time coming when I'll be doing these events less often and probably start doing shorter events closer to home. Hopefully, that day is a long way off, but you just don't know when your time will be over.
They say that Eddy Merckx was despised for dominating cycling during his reign at the top. Today, he is beloved by both the peloton and cycling sports fans. I hope that now that Lance is out of contention for the overall lead, the other riders and the fans show him some love and respect as he finishes his last Tour. All I can say is "Thanks Lance. It's been an amazing ride."