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.