Armstrong’s never-give-up went too far
JIM LITkE | ThE ASSOCIATED PRESS Admirable tenacity served star cyclist well up to now
Lance Armstrong could never leave well enough alone. For all his other outsized traits, that restlessness still defines him. It propelled Armstrong to revolutionize a sport, become its greatest champion and a hero to cancer survivors worldwide. That same impulse is what drove him to get back on his bike barely two years ago and risk it all.
Back then, Armstrong was retired with his legacy largely intact, still every bit as powerful and public a figure as he desired. He dated starlets, swapped text messages with Bono, testified before lawmakers and linked arms with Bill Clinton to announce an ambitious global initiative to combat the disease that nearly killed him almost 15 years earlier.
Yet Sunday saw Armstrong shuffled off to the background at the Tour de France, standing quietly off to one side as the yellow jersey he wore seven years in a row was stretched across the slim shoulders of 27-year-old Spaniard Alberto Contador.
Last year Armstrong was a contender. This year he couldn’t keep up, finishing almost 40 minutes behind.
Being an also-ran was never good enough for Armstrong before. And the sting of this defeat could linger even longer because of a federal investigation launched earlier this year following accusations of doping by Floyd Landis, a former teammate.
Armstrong is perhaps the most frequently tested athlete on the planet and has never come back dirty. Whether as plaintiff or defendant, Armstrong has won every court case, and he pushed back hard against attempts to nail him.
As a result of his refusal to back down, Armstrong won Lance Armstrong’s Team Radioshack won the best team award at the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, but the seventime champ didn’t stand out for himself during this year’s race. the benefit of the doubt in every case he’s contested in the court of public opinion, too. It didn’t hurt, of course, that Armstrong proved to be as tireless and relentless a crusader for cancer research as he was a rider.
During his run, Armstrong also boasted the most money, and the best team, support staff and state-of-the-art equipment. He might jet down to train on the moonscapes of Tenerife, up to the tip of L’Alpe d’Huez, or rent a wind tunnel to find out if the material on the back of his jersey bunched up too much — ridges mean more resistance to wind. Those innovations changed cycling forever.
“It was a very traditional sport, very old school, almost relaxed,” he recalled.
“We just wiped it all clean and said, ‘We’re going to analyze every little thing — if it’s the composition of a team, if it’s a diet, if it’s reconn-ing the courses, if it’s the tactics, if it’s radios, whatever it is’ — we sort of led the push there.”
As for the controversies, he remains defiant.
“There are several camps here: there’s one of ‘He didn’t do anything;’ there’s one where ‘He did everything;’ and there’s another camp that, ‘He may have done something, but everybody else did something, so I’m OK with it.’
“That’s totally fine, I have no problem with that. I gave up fighting that a long time ago,” Armstrong said.
“It’s not going to stop me from running my foundation. It won’t stop me from being a good father to my kids. It won’t stop me from doing whatever I want to do with my life.”
Referring to the 24/7 news cycle in the 21st century, Armstrong said, “If Frank Sinatra lived today, he’d have a much more difficult time being Frank Sinatra.”
Whether that applies to being Lance Armstrong, only time will tell.