Arm­strong’s never-give-up went too far

JIM LITkE | ThE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Ad­mirable tenac­ity served star cy­clist well up to now

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTSBRIEFING -

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.

Bas Czerwinski

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