For the past six years, Lance Armstrong has been at the pinnacle of pro cycling. After recovering from testicular cancer, he climbed the mountains of France in order to reach the highest heights in the sport of cycling. And as of July 24, 2005, he will ride off into the sunset. Yesterday, Lance announced his future retirement.
And as I read his words, I felt joy and sadness. Lance is a man who has transcended simple bounds of mortality. His fight against cancer has made him the poster child for hope. He has lifted the hearts and hopes of hundreds of thousands of people – both cancer patients, their loved ones and an entire generation of U.S. cyclists – myself included. I felt sadness because the Lance era in pro cycling is ending. And he won’t win a Tour of Flanders. And he won’t win Paris-Roubaix. He won’t win either the Giro or the Vuelta. There is so much he won’t have won.
But there is so much he has won. And there is so much he will still win once he dismounts the saddle. I can’t wait to see what he can do AFTER he stops racing. His work in the cancer fight has only begun. And he has three kids he must raise – along with Kristen (his ex-wife). There is much yet to do. I pray you have the perseverance to accomplish all that is before you.
As for me, I tip my helmet to the man who has motivated me on so many hills. I thank you for making me remember my mom every time I ride my bike (which means every day). I am humbled by the real courage you showed figthing a disease that is so terrifying. And I applaud you for bringing cycling into America’s consciousness. Good luck on #7.
Additional note: On the same day that Lance announced his retirment, the North American Court of Arbitration for Sport imposed a two-year penalty on Tyler Hamilton. He was accused of receiving illegal blood transfusions during the Olympics and the Vuelta. The charges in the Olympics were dismissed due to a lack of evidence (when the second blood sample was mishandled). But the CAS decided to adopt and enforce a zero-tolerance policy. And Tyler will not be able to compete for two years. Given Tyler’s age (33), it is unlikely that he will ever compete again (unless the ruling is overturned).
This whole situation breaks my heart. I don’t know Tyler. But I have read and marvelled at him. I gasped when I heard that he broke his collarbone in the early stages of the 2003 Tour de France. I revelled in his solo escape in stage 16 (Pau-Bayonne) that very same Tour. I cried when I read his tribute to his dog (Tugboat) who died in 2004. Here was a guy that showed courage and compassion. So to see him broken by scandal seems so improbable. I don’t know what to believe. If true, then he merits punishment. And taking away cycling is punishment. If untrue, then he is being mistreated for the sake of political correctness and image. In either case, he deserves my compassion and my prayers.
U.S. cycling must now look to a next generation of cyclists. Bobby Julich is now in his thirties. So while he has many stages left, we still need to look to the next generation. Can Dave Zabriskie or Christian Vande Velde succeed under Bjarner Riis? Will we see new talent pop onto the stage through small teams like Jittery Joe’s? Who knows. But somewhere on the streets of America, the next young talent is pedaling. I can’t wait to see who it is!