Riding with Lance

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Yes, Lance. If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you are aware of the tirades that I went on after the Oprah debacle. This past Saturday I rode with Lance Armstrong at a metric century charity event in Auburn, Alabama. I had mixed emotions as I stood at the start line. As a cyclist I was excited, but as a scorned fan, I was still a bit . . . well, you know. Bret Farve, Bo Jackson, and other celebrities were on hand. I snapped a picture but made no effort to communicate. I just stood there and waited.

I had arrived early to get ready and be at the start line before the crowds. Pulling up, I noticed that a few riders were already there with their bib numbers pinned to the front of their jersey, not a good sign for the riders behind them. Lance and the others made rolled up the line with great fanfare and charity speeches were made. As the ride got underway, a thought occurred to me: How would it feel to ride in the biggest bike race in the world, being at the top of your profession with media all around and fans screaming your name to riding a charity event in Alabama? The thought swirled around as we rolled away. It must be a very humbling experience for Lance. Yes, the cycling fans were excited, but how hard it must be to swallow your pride. Sure, he was still getting lots and lots of attention, but the question kept nagging at me. Lance has done this ride before, but this was my first time to do it, at the encouragement of a friend.

Within the first three miles, Bo Jackson flatted and drifted away to be serviced. The pace was easy, so I just stayed back and enjoyed everything. To use an overused word, this was so surreal to me. The Alabama State Troopers had huge motorcade, along with vehicles, blasting sirens and clearing traffic. People lined the streets, clapping and screaming and taking pictures. Media vehicles were zooming around us with photographers hanging out of the windows, snapping dozens and dozens of pictures. I was soaking it up. After all, I was on Lance Armstrong’s wheel. Passing 20 miles or so, most of the celebrities had drifted back, and we were in a sort-of double pace line. Bret Farve rides his bike in Mississippi, from what I hear, but didn’t stick to the front as we got into the 30 mile area and hills came more and more often.

At what I felt was the right time, I pulled up next to Lance and thanked him for coming out to the event. He was nice. I asked him about his Pinaerello F8, and he said that he brought it from Austin. I thought it was unusual that he didn’t know anything about what made the F8 an F8. He chuckled a bit and mentioned that it wasn’t too stiff and felt like he was pushing a sled. Our conversation went on for about three or four miles. I did mention the rider only getting a six year ban for having motor in her bike, to which Lance did not respond. He only shrugged. I get that. Lance had learned a valuable lesson on speaking out. I knew that he knew it was absolutely ridiculous. Yes, I threw Peter Sagan into the conversation and asked if Lance thought that Sagan would ever be a GC contender. Lance didn’t think so. He thought the long TT’s and mountain stages prevented that. Lance did stay that he thought Peter was good for the sport and knew how to train hard and suffer. We came to some bad road area. I avoided some huge holes and ended up three or four back in what formed into a single line.

When the course got into the 40-mile area, many of the riders had thinned (yes, all of the ones with numbers pinned to the front) and the pace was increasing. We were now holding between 23 to 26 mph in rollers, and two main groups had formed. I was in the front group with five guys and could not get my heart rate to go down. I had held my lactate threshold for a long time and knew that I must drift back; that meant getting hung out between the first and second group. I did anyway. Drifting back, I held a good cadence and eyed my HR. It was then that I heard a few chirps behind me (letting me know that the second group was coming up), but it wasn’t a group. It was only Lance. I slid over and he passed me. He had come off of the second group to make a run at the front group. He slid his thigh over his saddle and looked back at me. Coming? I knew I couldn’t bridge that gap. It had become a LARGE gap. I knew I needed to sit in for a minute and gather myself. The second group slid up next to me, and I hopped in. It was then that I noticed (well, we all did) that Lance went into the drops and began his launch to the front group. Yes, LAUNCH! Gone. Wow. I thought to myself how much pure talent that Lance possessed. I admit. I was a bit saddened by it. He made choices. He’s had a paid a heavy price for those choices and somewhat still paying. But guess what? He was at a charity event, riding for tornado victims of Alabama. No doubt that Lance is a complicated guy, and I cannot say that I know him at all, but I do think that he’s making an effort. That alone changed a lot for me.

The second group came in five minutes behind Lance and the front group. He had already hit the VIP tent to change and attempt to catch a flight. It was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Lance said he’ll be back next year, and so will I.

Bon Vélo!

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11 thoughts on “Riding with Lance

  1. Awesome. No matter what Lance did or didn’t do or whatever, I won’t get into that, watching him smash it up in the Tour was an early inspiration for me to get into road cycling. He was (is) an incredible talent no doubt, all the drugs in the world can’t make a pack horse a world tour thoroughbred.

  2. I’ve been a fan for a long time and still am. I have zero problem with the guy. I think he is an amazing athlete with or without peds. He was a polarizing and enigmatic figure, much like Senna was. Who I followed and thought was just so naturally gifted. I have zero problem with peds in general in sports or any other usage. Lance single-handily made a massive impact on cycling in N.A. and around the globe, though not as much outside of the continent. he also created wealth for a number of people and companies as well. The man still rides and runs, because he has true passion for it, whether it is driven by pure love or some other obsession. The fact that he has nearly 3.5 million followers on Twitter and millions on fb and thousands on Strava say a lot.

  3. Very nice write up. Thanks for sharing this. I was unaware that he made any public appearances any more. I am one of the ex-Lance fans who watched him winning the last five tours with my daughter. We enjoyed sharing the experience both thought we were witnessing a real American hero. I feel like he made fools of us and am not able to forgive him for it.

  4. You are welcome. I guess what is very sad for me is that, as you say, he was an amazing athlete. How horribly ironic if he really didn’t even need the drugs.

    1. Yep! That is the key. He still holds to the fact that during that time frame no one could win without drugs . . . kind of true since Lance would have come in 23rd place (2010) if you removed all involved in drugs during that time. BUT as a do over? Ride clean and let the others get caught . . . one word: pride.

  5. This is a great piece, and what an experience!

    Obviously I get the anger that’s still directed at Lance, but that’s not how I see it. Lance isn’t the devil. He also isn’t (and never was) the problem. He cheated, like lots of others, some of whom were caught and lots who weren’t. He was also pretty unpleasant to some people. The question about whether he needed the drugs or not…

    To be a pro cyclist at the top level in that era you either took the drugs and competed, or you flogged your guts out for very little reward. I’m not excusing Lance (and the rest), but it’s not black and white.

    1. Very well said, RTC! It completely stuns me that he gets a lifetime ban and the girl gets 6 years for a motor in her bike! I know he was deeper, but there seems to still be an inconsistency.

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