No tears for Arm­strong

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Like many peo­ple who tran­scend to one-name recog­ni­tion (Madonna, Tiger, Freud), Lance tends to di­vide any room into for-him and against-him fac­tions.

But, re­gard­less of which side of the room you’re on, you’ve got to ac­knowl­edge that Lance Arm­strong earned his sin­gle-name recog­ni­tion through ef­fort and by over­com­ing chal­lenges.

Like much about Arm­strong’s ca­reer, his de­ci­sion to re­turn to the Tour de France last year af­ter a three-year hia­tus sparked con­flict­ing thoughts. Was this a washed-up guy un­will­ing to move on to the next phase of his life? Maybe, but last year’s third­place fin­ish was solid enough to dis­pel that no­tion.

And that fin­ish — com­bined with a new lineup on a new team (Ra­dio Shack) — gave rise to hopes of an­other solid fin­ish, per­haps an eighth vic­tory, this year.

The cur­rent race ends July 25. There are many miles and moun­tains be­tween now and the fin­ish line. But at this point, an Arm­strong vic­tory or even a top-tier fin­ish would ri­val his seven con­sec­u­tive wins on the ac­com­plish­ment scale.

“My tour is fin­ished,” Arm­strong said Sun­day af­ter three crashes in a moun­tain­ous stage that left him in 39th place, 13 min­utes, 26 sec­onds be­hind the race leader.

To his credit, Arm­strong meant fin­ished as in no chance of win­ning, but not fin­ished as in pack­ing it in and head­ing home. There’s plenty more rac­ing, and Arm­strong seems ready to tran­si­tion into a sup­port role as he helps team­mate Levi Leipheimer, who was in sixth place af­ter Tues­day’s stage.

“I can try and win stages, try and help the team, re­ally try and ap­pre­ci­ate my time here, and the fact that I’m not com­ing back,” Arm­strong said Sun­day.

Af­ter Mon­day’s rest day, Arm­strong clipped back into the ped­als yes­ter­day for the 127-mile ninth stage that in­cluded a pun­ish­ing climb up the Madeleine pass.

“At the start of (stage) 9. Tough 1 for sure,” he tweeted as the stage be­gan. “Madaleine (sic) at the end. Nasty! Hope­fully my body has re­cov­ered from my con­crete luge act last Sun­day.”

Five hours and 41 min­utes later, Arm­strong came across the fin­ish line in 18th place, leav­ing him in 31st place over­all, al­most 16 min­utes be­hind race leader Andy Sch­leck, ev­ery­body’s fa­vorite ath­lete from Lux­em­bourg.

Some asked what Arm­strong, at 38, was do­ing in the race this year. But based on last year’s fin­ish, why should he be any­where else?

It’s still too early to tell how the race will end for Arm­strong, but at this point we’re not ready to sign on with those who be­lieve the de­sire and ef­fort he put into train­ing for this year’s race amounted to em­bar­rass­ment for the for­mer champ. We’re also not ready to sign on with those who den­i­grate ef­fort and declare as de­feat any­thing less than first place.

We’re aware of the drug al­le­ga­tions that have swirled around Arm­strong for years. Yes, it’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve he was clean while he won seven in a row while many other top rid­ers were dop­ing. But fair play de­mands we be­lieve that un­til and un­less there is proof oth­er­wise.

Arm­strong’s per­sonal life also has been sub­jected to scru­tiny and scorn. Some see an ar­ro­gant jerk. And many have not for­got­ten the Arm­strong con­struc­tion project that pol­luted a nearby swim­ming hole. He did the right thing and, at no small ex­pense, cor­rected the prob­lem at Dead Man’s Hole in Hays County.

But Arm­strong’s bal­ance sheet is heavy on pos­i­tives earned through his foun­da­tion’s anti-can­cer cru­sade. His re­turn to rac­ing was fu­eled in part by the de­sire to re­fo­cus at­ten­tion on that ef­fort.

Is he the per­fect role model? No, no­body is.

But we’ve liked what we’ve seen from Arm­strong when faced by hard­ship, be it can­cer or steep climbs. We saw it again af­ter the crash-marred ride that seemed to mark the end of any hopes of an eighth Tour de France vic­tory.

“No tears for me. I’ve had a lot of good years here,” Arm­strong said.

Aus­tinites, re­gard­less of whether you’re for him or against him, should join us in wish­ing Lance safe cy­cling as he com­pletes those years in the next week and a half.

Bas czerwinski AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

it seems un­likely that austin cy­clist lance arm­strong will add to his yel­low wardrobe this year af­ter three crashes sun­day took him out of con­tention, and his farewell tour takes a back seat to the un­prece­dented seven con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries he en­joyed from 1999 to 2005.

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