Lance Armstrong (no nickname required)

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On this eve of Armstrong winning his 7th Tour de France in a row, I thought it fitting to reflect on what I think of the guy. I’m a year older than Lance. I’m a former junior bicycle racer myself. And, I think I may have been in close quarters with him at one point in my life.

I can’t be sure of it, but I think Lance may have been in attendance at an Olympic Training Center cycling development camp I attended in Colorado Springs back in the 80s. I remember a cocky Texan who the coaches seemed to dote over. All of us there figured he was in a class of his own. I remember him saying that the only hills he has in Texas are the highway on ramps

Little recognized outside of the cycling community is Armstrong’s quadruple threat.

1. Everyone knows Lance has the genetics to kick ass. When I read his book and discovered that he was kicking butt in his first races, it dawned on me how dim my cycling career prospects were from the results I posted in my first races. I wasn’t buying no Camaros at 17 from my race winnings, that’s for sure.

2. Lance is brilliant. The decisions this guy makes are incredible. Decisions as minute as what size tire to use for a particular stage of race are crucial and overlooked by his rivals. I could go on and on about the decisions – tactical, personnel, equipment, energy economy, training and so forth, that he makes that sets him apart from everyone else, but that’d take too much space.

3. Lance has a demon inside, balanced with a human conscience. I’m a big fan of the old Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff Angel. For those who don’t know, Angel is the hero and sometimes villain of that series. He’s an ancient vampire named Angelus who had his human soul restored as a curse from a band of gypsies that were upset that Angelus killed one of their own. So the demon vampire and human soul co-exist in this one body. Most of the time, Angel (the human) is in charge, but when he really needs to kick some ass he channels Angelus (the vampire). In the end, Angel is the champion of champions that saves the world over and over again, like waking up each morning to eat breakfast.

I think there’s a lot of parallels between Angel’s character and Lance (not to mention only a one letter difference in their names). Lance has a human soul, but there’s a competitive demon inside that he channels when he needs to and that sets him a part from the pack. Without it, he’d just be another talented bike rider. Maybe he would’ve split these last seven TdF victories with Jan Ullrich if he didn’t have the demon to push him. Jan appears to be a really good guy. Anyone of us would be lucky to call him a friend. Full of talent, but he lacks that demon to drive him to not eat too much in December or to spend his time analyzing his equipment in October to take more seconds out of the time trial.

I don’t know what put that demon in Lance’s body. It wouldn’t be fair for me to speculate why it’s there. Genetics? Environment? One can only speculate. But, for sure, it’s there.

4. Single minded focus. Very few people have the ability to focus singularly on one thing. Cancer. TdF. Clicking off the fastest time in his last TdF time trial. Armstrong knows what he’s after and he quickly gets back on track after any derailments. Sometimes this singular focus can hurt those around him. But, in the end it elevates him to a new level and allows him to do some mighty great things (LAF for example).

Most people can easily recognize Armstrong’s genetic ability, but few recognize the others. But, I believe, it’s the combination of these four things that sets him apart from everyone else. Without any one of these things, Armstrong would have likely slipped into oblivion about 3 or 4 years ago.

Lance, Thanks for the memories. I’m glad I was here to witness your ascension to greatness. I’m definitely not equipped to judge this, but if you made any deals with any higher beings to do some good if you were given a second chance you sure haved seemed to fulfilled your end of the bargain many millions of times over.

I know several cancer survivors who were inspired by your story. Some won their battle. Some lost. But all felt connected to something great because of you. All felt less lonely as they faced their demons.

I’ll never ask you for anything. I have no expectations for you. You’ve done so much. Thanks dude. Somehow, I have feeling that you won’t stop amazing me.

In a nutshell…

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A guy stopped me in the street today and asked how I keep so trim.

A few of my cycling buddies and I had just rode our bikes to eat breakfast on a hot, July day in the midwest. Our tight cycling clothes revealed our trim bodies.

“In a nutshell,” I replied, “eat less and exercise more.”