Cycling with Lance helps heal past hurts, change perspective
Lance Armstrong. Few athletes elicit more controversy than Lance.
The world was graced for nearly a decade with the story, a fairy tale really, of this white knight overcoming cancer and winning; not just winning, but dominating the most difficult test of endurance on earth: the Tour de France.
After the investigation of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency into the doping practices of my former team, the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team, though, he has been called “the Bernie Madoff” of sport. His detractors seethe with vitriolic hate while his supporters zealously defend him; his rise to the top of the sporting world and his swift fall from grace have been nothing short of stunning.
So, it was with great curiosity when on June 4, while riding through Arches National Park, that I noticed I had a new follower on Twitter: @LanceArmstong. I hadn’t seen Lance since the 1996 Tour du Pont. It’s no secret that I left the sport because I did not want to dope, and thus my initial reaction was one of slight apprehension. I thought, “Why would Lance Armstrong want to get in touch with me?”
We met at his house in Aspen on July 17 for a mountain bike ride. He poured me a cup of coffee, and we watched a few minutes of the final time trial of the Tour de France as we got ready to ride. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I reflect now, it was strange to be watching a stage of the Tour de France with Lance Armstrong.
We rolled out of his house toward Woody Creek for a ride called the Larkspur Mountain Loop. This loop is 42 miles long on a mixture of paved, dirt and fire roads with 4,300 feet of climbing. Most of this climbing comes in one slug, which tops out at more than 10,400 feet.
Early into our ride Lance noticed he had a slow leak on his rear tire. My CO2 cartridge had been punctured, and his had no threads, which made it incompatible with our filling device. Luckily he had a Big Air Fill as well, and we were able to reseal the tire.
On our ride we talked about cycling, politics, doping, business, family and many other topics. About 40 minutes into the climb Lance turned to me and said, “Hey Scott, I need to tell you something ... You’re hurting!” I didn’t need to look at my heart rate monitor to know he was right. My labored breathing and square pedal stroke told the story.
As we continued the climb, a truck with two mountain bikers came up on us. Lance suggested that we ask them if they had any extra cartridges in case we flatted. I dropped back about 30 feet to ask them if they had any, but all they had was a pump. I grabbed the side of the truck to give my legs a break.
As we drove up toward Lance he yelled to the driver, “Hey, watch out, the guy behind me is going to try and hold onto your tailgate.”
But it was too late. I had a vice-grip on the truck and told the driver to punch it. We drove up the road, leaving Lance in our dust. After about 15 seconds I let go, and we laughed and continued our ride. As we summited the climb I paused to enjoy the spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. There were so many wildflowers that I felt like one of the Von Trapps in the Austrian Alps.
The descent was fast and fun, but seemed remarkably short considering we had climbed for nearly 90 minutes. The owner of the Woody Creek Tavern is a cyclist and has a cooler outside filled with cold water for cyclists, and we stopped to refill our bottles.
As I drove home I thought about Lance and his current situation. I normally view the world in black and white, but I realize that most things in life have many shades of gray. Lance was, and in my eyes remains, one of the greatest and hardest working endurance athletes in history; he gave hope to millions of cancer patients and got countless others involved in cycling and fitness. In the process he became a near demigod.
He doped and consistently lied about his actions, but he’s no Bernie Madoff. He’s just human; and humans are flawed. He did not mention this, but I can imagine that an enormous weight of guilt must have been lifted off his conscience.
I have been asked many times if I feel that Lance Armstrong deserves redemption. He may have a long road ahead of himself, but I believe that everyone deserves a chance at redemption.