Monday, January 12, 2009

Lance Armstrong – Tour de France Comeback

I know something about retiring. I did it. I am inexperienced at making comebacks, successful ones. I am getting inspired as I write.

Comebacks among athletes are old news. Many good athletes couldn’t handle retirement and attempted comebacks. Only a few exceptional athletes have made successful comebacks, people like Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, George Foreman, Martina Navratilova and number 23 Michael Jordan. Now we have another one, a most unlikely one in a most unlikely sport.

I love sports and I have played a few. I have never been involved in bicycle racing but I admire the athlete who is dedicated to the rigors of this demanding team sport. And if you haven’t heard, one of professional bike racing’s elite athletes is making a comeback this year. LANCE ARMSTRONG IS BACK! Yeah! At least that’s my response. Well perhaps that’s premature. He has been training, and he has been greenlighted by the racing powers and he right now he is in Australia for the Tour Down Under. Clearly he was unable to handle retirement. Could 2009 be the year of the legend, a legendary year. The man is already of legendary proportion having won the Tour de France seven consecutive years beginning in 1999 and retiring after the seventh yellow jersey in 2005. Think about that, 2005-2009.

The Tour de France, oh what a race! Christine and I are devotees of the Tour, albeit in front of the TV. It’s how we start our mornings during Tour time, coffee in hand, faces turned south-west, the position of our TV screen. We watch the riders each day, up mountains, through villages, round steep curves, through rain and heat for hundreds of kilometres per race. In vain we cheer the breakaway riders as the peloton with alternating lead riders relentlessly overtakes the front group. And then as it has since 1975 the Tour de France finishes with 6.5 laps around the grand oval of the world’s most beautiful avenue, Paris’ Champs-Elysées. Christine and I will soon be walking the Champs-Elysées, sadly too soon for the Tour.

Armstrong is so fascinating a figure because by 1993 at age 22 he had won 10 titles in bike races and one stage of the Tour de France. For two more years he grew his skills and won more races including another stage in the Tour de France. He was America’s male cyclist of the year in 1995. Then at age 25 he withdrew in pain and tests revealed advanced testicular cancer had spread into his lungs and brain. His chances of recovery were 50/50 and while afraid, he was determined and began aggressive chemo. In May of 1998 Lance celebrated his victory over cancer and his "official" return to U.S. cycling by winning under the lights the Sprint 56K Criterium Austin. Following the Sprint Criterium, Lance went on to score stunning victories at the Tour de Luxembourg (June, 1998), the Rheinland in Germany (July, 1998), the Cascade Classic in Oregon (July, 1998), finished fourth in the Tour of Holland (September, 1998), and remarkable fourth in the grueling Tour of Spain (September, 1998), and concluded his 1998 season with an overall fourth place finish at the World Championships in Holland. Beating cancer he had already won the biggest contest of his life but the fairy tale was complete it seemed when in 1999 he won the Tour de France. Who could dream that he would do it six more times in successive years? And now he is returning.

I ask myself, “Am I ready for a comeback?” Perhaps I should be. Not a return to my former career necessarily. There are other things going on in my life. I am forty pounds heavier than I was at my wedding. I drink too much coffee. My teeth have worn with age. I require corrective lenses. I have only wisps of hair on top which my tiny granddaughter plays with. My eyelids are drooping like rain soaked canopies. Life purpose is a bit muddy. Spiritual slippage is a concern. Without deliberate attention romance becomes eroded after 41 years of marriage.

If Lance wins a stage of the Tour Down Under, I think he will be telling the world to watch for him in Paris.
I want to comeback in some areas. I want to win some early stages. I will tell you about them when they happen.

Lance Armstrong website
The Lance Armstrong Foundation
The Livestrong blog
On Tour with Lance

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