Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Second Coming

On Monday I saw a news article suggesting that Lance Armstrong was considering returning to racing so I wrote the post below. It didn’t make it in here because I didn’t have time to proof it. I can spell, but I can’t type, and I can’t see. That combination obligates some serious proof reading. When I hurry things along and post before proofing, well you’ve seen the results.

So I rode home from work the next day (Tuesday). It was a beautiful but brutal ride. A sunny autumn day but tremendous headwinds, and right out of the parking lot too! (Usually the first half of my ride is fairly protected from wind) I was in for some serious ‘training’. Mrs. C was sympathetic when I rolled in. She said the wind had rocked the little Subaru on her way home from the gym.

So I was too tired to edit that night, but when I checked my email before retiring for the evening I found a message from Mr Doug Ulman, Lance Armstrong Foundation President and CEO giving me the inside scoop on Lance’s decision to return to racing. I’m a donor and these people are smart, they do what they can to make you feel like you’re ‘on the team’, like you are special. It’s a little obvious but I’d donate anyway, they do good things. Here's the message:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008 7:14:25 PM

Dear paul,
We wanted you to be the first to know it's true. There are times in life when the game changes, when you look at the world differently and you know you must do what's right. So, once again, Lance is changing the game. Today, it's still not about the bike. It's about people, their families and friends fighting the greatest fight of their lives both in the U.S. and around the world. It's about straight and open talk about cancer, breaking the silence and eliminating the stigma and discrimination survivors experience. It's about a moral obligation to fight this disease no matter who or where it strikes with everything we've got.

The LIVESTRONG Army's commitment and dedication has started a movement to change cancer policy, research funding and access to care a fight we must all commit to continue. We cannot stop now. We must increase our efforts and work to make cancer not only a national priority, but a global priority as well. Together, we can help inspire and empower the millions of people affected by cancer worldwide.

Now more than ever, we need you to join us. Whether you
make a gift, join the LIVESTRONG Army or consider the presidential candidates' cancer plans before you vote, you will make an important impact on the future of cancer.
Read the official statement or watch a video message to the LIVESTRONG Army from Lance in his own words.
Thank you for all you do to support our efforts.
Doug UlmanLAF President and CEO

Here’s my Monday post:

If you are a news hound or a bike geek by now you have heard that Lance Armstrong is set to re-enter the world of D-1 professional bike racing… or not. There was a short news article out yesterday afternoon stating that he would ride for Astana cycling team and was planning to compete in the 2009 Tour de France. An elaboration of the story can be found here:

I was skeptical but it was an AP byline and unlike the CRAP news agency (Codfish Reporting And Publishing) they don’t make these things up. But there was no mention on any of the LA Foundation websites and no accompanying statement from Mr. Armstrong. His publicist offers the insightful ‘no comment’ comment. Still … where there’s smoke there is usually someone fanning the flames.

This morning I found a note from Astana saying essentially ‘news to us and we have no plans for a Mr. Armstrong on our team any time soon’.

In some ways it must be the pits to be Armstrong, or any ‘news target celebrity’ for that matter. The guy can’t even think out loud about his next move without it being on the news wire 15 minutes later. I suspect this may have been something that someone heard from a close friend of someone who actually knows (or has met) Mr. Armstrong and who posted it as a ‘fact’ on his or her blog or mentioned at ‘cancer awareness fundraiser’ (the cocktail part of the new century) and thus the snowball begins it’s and inexorable roll, (all down hill, metaphorically speaking) into the maw of the blast furnace that is internet journalism.

Though I was skeptical I also left some space for this actually developing. I’m sure there is an addictive quality to being the best in the world for a period of time, long enough to demonstrate that your skill is no fluke, no one hit wonder but in fact your athletic accomplishments are in a class above all the other ‘world class’ athletes in your field. You’re up there, loved or hated but pitched squarely under the hot lights and day in and day or out for five or six years you continue to hold off the competition. In Armstrong’s case he didn’t just hold them off, he toyed with them, then he hammered them, he rode circles around them (again with the metaphors). And then it’s over: The lights immediately swing away to the next big thing and you are no longer news, in fact you immediately become yesterdays news, and you know what we do with yesterdays newspaper. From hit to has been just like that. And celebrity cancer awareness fundraisers as meaningful as they are can certainly be no ‘methadone treatment’ for the withdrawals a driven man must experience once the effort and attention are

Make no mistake; I am enormously impressed with the Lance Armstrong Foundation and I think a fit, handsome, athletic young world champion has done more for the fight against cancer than all the old white male politicians ever could no matter how committed they might be. If you have a cancer victim or survivor in your family or circle of friends chances are good that person has benefitted in some way from LAF efforts.

I hope this rumor turns out to be a rumor. Those ‘come backs’ almost always end badly and they tend to blur the memory of an athlete’s achievements. Much like when the QB drops back for a pass, the odds are stacked against success. (For the QB three of the four possible outcomes are bad: interception, incompletion, or a sack). At my age, 37 looks awfully young but the sun has begun it’s descent for most pro cyclists by that age. And I can’t really see Mr. Armstrong as the elder statesman of cycling; helping the new stars get on, riding back to the team car to fetch water bottles. It’s true in bike racing more than most sports that there are stars and water carriers and there is little room on any team for someone who does not easily fit into one of those two roles.

Of course there are other diversions: A guy can continue to date skinny blond celebs, but that’s not much of a career move. Or there is politics, a slippery slope indeed. The 'governator' seems to have effectively made that transition however I suspect Texas politicians would do to Lance what the pro peloton never could. Think Michael Jordan as a minor league baseball player, only with even less grace.

Now Charles Barkly as governor of Alabama, that I would like to see; Unlike Sarah Palin, there is no difference between Barkly and a pit bull.

So, now that it’s official I look at this from a slightly different perspective and here’s what I am thinking: As I mentioned earlier these post retirement come backs don’t often go well, even for exceptional athletes. The history is there and it just reinforces my dominate pessimism gene.

But then Lance Armstrong is no ‘ordinary’ exceptional athlete, there are some factors that work in his favor. First off, this is not his first come back but his second. The guy was a world class athlete (though perhaps not such a great ambassador for the sport) and suffered a health challenge that nearly killed him. But he came back, through sheer force of will and put his unusual physiological gifts to work to systematically become one of the greatest cyclists of all times. Really, it is the stuff of superhero comic books, even the name, Lance Armstrong. I mean if you made this story up, it would be fantasy. So, who knows, perhaps we have only seen the prelude to the really amazing part of the story.

He’s said that his goal is to ride the 2009 tour but I wonder if he has the taste for riding as pack fill in weeks two or three. He’s ridden the tour when he had absolutely no chance of winning, but I think those memories are lost to him. He remembers competing for the win, from start to finish, If he’s not able to get to that level he may find that the tour and in fact the world at large may not even notice, just another brightly colored body in the pack. In the Tour De France there are 189 riders. For maybe ten of them it is tramnsformational, but for the other 179 it is a dogs life: all work and no recognition. Is Lance Armstrong ready for anonymity?


  1. Seriously, while I applaud the work that Lance has done for Cancer research and patient support, I DO wish he would stay retired. Go to school, enter a new profession, do SOMEthing, ANYthing else.
    Not only because he's going to be almost 38 at next year's Tour, but because he's part of a generation of bike racers that, well, mostly doped. (Whether Lance actually did dope or not, it can't be proven now and that means the aura of suspicion will just hang more heavily over him.)

    Add to that his age and the fact that he took time off, and you have a recipe for less-than-success.

    It's sort of like how I felt following Jeannie Longo at the Olympics. She's 50! And though she may be amazing, she's effectively shutting out a generation of younger women who would love to race for France if not for Jeannie's dominance.

    At some point, it's apprpriate to step aside and let the youngsters in -- teach, coach, whatever, but you can't race forever, and Lance shouldn't try to.

  2. "She's 50!"
    OH EM GEE, she's fifty? Well then of course she should quit racing and let the kids have a try, after all she's ...OLD!

    Beth, I know you think of yourself as old but I assure you, things will change in a few years. At 60, I look back at a 50 year old racer and think "she's not so old". Well of course she is but I think she should step aside when the 'young' races beat her, ... soundly and often!

    While you may not agree with this atitiude now, later in life I'm sure you will understand it. When people begin to gently (or not so) elbow you out of the way, out of sporting opportunities, out of the workplace because you are old I suspect it will raise that righteous indignation we see when you discuss the health care system, or the electoral system, or the discrinmation that gays experience.

    Nowhere more than in sporting competition is age based discrimination out of place:
    So long as a person can continue to win, or be competitive, they belong. When Longo no longer wins, she'll stop being supported and all that will take when some young woman wants it more than she does.