While I've been riding my bike for many years, my love of watching cycling leads back to one man... Lance Armstrong. Like most people I was taken in by Armstrong's remarkable story of how an up and coming cyclist overcame cancer to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times.
Calgary - September 19, 2012 - While most Canadian sports fans look forward to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, The World Series and The Superbowl, I pass on those events to watch professional cycling. Watching the pros climb mountains that are too hard for most people to walk is far more exciting to me than watching someone put a black disc into a net. The Tour de France has me mesmerized every July and the 500 channel cable universe now allows me to watch the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a España and other cycling events during the year. Since the beginning of June I've spent over 60 days watching the grand tours... thank goodness for DVR's. While I've been riding my bike for many years, my love of watching cycling leads back to one man... Lance Armstrong.
Like most people I was taken in by Armstrong's remarkable story of how an up and coming cyclist overcame cancer to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, beginning with his unlikely win in 1999. I read his book (It's not about the bike), followed his career and rooted him on year after year. Seeing him win the time trial up Alpe d'Huez, rip the legs off his competitors on the Tourmalet, Plat d'Adet and the Col de Peyresourde and watching him circle the Champs Élysées adorned in yellow each year was an exciting and inspiring thing. Even when Lance retired for good (after a comeback) I continued to root for any cyclist that had the guts to take on the peloton and make a mad dash for the finish line. During the big races it's not uncommon for me to scream at the TV in an effort to will a suffering cyclist to victory. Cycling is in my blood and I can't get enough. Even now that the aura of Lance has been tarnished by the United States Anti Doping Agency.
For those of you who haven't been following the story, Armstrong has been stripped of his seven tour victories and has been banned for life from cycling for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong denies ever using anything illegal to win his tours and says the recent investigation was a witch-hunt. He continues to claim he's never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Years ago in a Nike commercial, he joked that people were always asking him what he's on. He added, "I'm on my bike busting my ass six hours a day, what are you on?”
Armstrong's story is remarkable and seems almost impossible. Prior to his seven wins only four other cyclists had won five tours, getting a sixth escaped them all. Including the greatest cyclist of all time Eddy Merckx. Other than one year, Armstrong made it look easy as he brushed off all challengers. His teams were machines that did everything possible to ride him 2100 miles around France every July. All the while Lance fought off allegations that he had doped to win. To make his story more suspect, his rise to prominence came at a time when cycling was under great scrutiny for a series of cyclists and cycling teams caught red handed with drugs. Armstrong was tainted from the moment he first pulled on the maillot jaune in 1999.
Over the last month I have read, heard and seen dozens of stories about Lance. I brought up the discussion on Alberta radio, with support and condemnation of Armstrong at about 50/50. I have spent years hearing the doping stories and defended him from the beginning. I have to admit the constant doping allegations have even shaken my faith in the guy I watched climb those ungodly mountain passes in France. His unwillingness to take his most recent fight against doping charges to the end seems unusual and out of character for someone who fought cancer and beat it. Did the possibility of having former teammates reveal everything under oath scare off the Boss of the peloton? I guess we'll never know. Meaning we can all take sides and continue to debate Armstrong's guilt or innocence. For me, Armstrong will always be the guy who won seven consecutive tours. Nothing can take away the thrills I had watching him ride.
As for Armstrong himself, he seems to be doing just fine. He recently rode in a mountain bike race and came second and appeared in Montreal to speak at a conference about cancer. He started his speech by introducing himself as a cancer survivor and said... "And yes, I won the Tour de France seven times,". Lance Armstrong cancer survivor and cocky as ever.
By the way Armstrong's charity, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, has raised almost $500 million to provide care and comfort to people with cancer. Somehow the seven tour victories pale in comparison to that amazing accomplishment.
Here's a video of my favourite Lance Armstrong victory. Stage 17 at the 2004 Tour de France. Watch from 1:10. Unbelievable!
John Bolton has been a broadcaster for 25 years, most recently in Cornwall Ontario. After living in Ontario his entire life John and his wife Sheila recently moved to Alberta where John fills in on Calgary radio discussing politics, current events and all things Alberta. He believes in personal responsibility, limited government and being able to keep more of the money he earns. If you have questions or wish to contact John, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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