As always, Lance Armstrong was thorough in planning, researching and chronicling his return to professional cycling. Nothing, it seems, was left to chance. In figuring out his chances to win an unprecedented eighth Tour de France next year, Armstrong weighed his options, talked things over with his inner circle, gauged the reactions and tore through it all as if he were searching for a needle in a haystack with a fine-toothed comb.
Everything regarding the public announcement and the return was orchestrated. According to author Douglas Brinkley, the hand-picked scribe to compose the story for Vanity Fair, Armstrong hired a film crew to document the entire process. From the initial announcement, through the training in Colorado and California, to the buildup races in the U.S. and Europe, all the way to the starting line in Monte Carlo on July 4 to the finish at the Champs-Élysées, movie makers will record it all.
Certainly there is nothing like watching a solitary bike rider pedal up an abandoned mountain road. Talk about riveting…
Facetiousness aside, what is fascinating is the nod toward history and perhaps even the self-indulgence Armstrong has about his place in the lexicon of the world in and out of sports. That’s not to dismiss the man – that would be dumb. Armstrong is a force of nature and a celebrity amongst celebrities. Not only is Armstrong the most decorated cyclist ever, but also he is the greatest benefactor of cancer research in the world.
As such, Armstrong tabbed Brinkley, the prolific presidential historian and executor of the literary estate of Hunter S. Thompson, to write the first version of this new history. Clearly a mere sportswriter was not big enough for this type of work.
Nevertheless, Armstrong says the comeback is personal. It’s about cancer as well as the lingering doubts that he won his first seven Tour de France titles unscrupulously. It’s also about a 37-year-old man being inspired by other athletes in his demographic, like Dara Torres, and their ability to perform at elite levels regardless of age. To prove himself (and his sincerity) this time around, Armstrong says he will entertain all questions from all outposts of the mass media and, just for good measure, will undergo a vigorous drug-testing program. The results, he says, will be posted publically on the web for all to see.
Openness seems to be the theme for Armstrong. Though clearly calculated – and not as if he didn’t submit to hundreds of drug tests as well as personal public consumption in the past – Armstrong is letting it all hang out. Seemingly there will be no filter.
And seemingly, there could be another motive. Armstrong’s first book was called, “It’s Not About The Bike.” That’s a pretty catchy title to sum up a guy who has an inner drive that exceeds his freakishly off-the-charts VO2 reading, who also, by the way, survived advanced cancer at the age of 25 when he was given less than a 40 percent chance to survive.
But maybe this time it is about the bike just a little bit. Maybe in that sense Armstrong is a little like Michael Jordan or Brett Favre in that the sport is actually embedded deep into his core being. Maybe the guy just loves to train and compete and live that “monastatic” lifestyle that he once described that made him “super fit.”
Maybe he just likes to ride his bike and win races. Maybe he just likes to do that better than anyone else in the world.
When asked if he could reveal something about Armstrong that no one else would know, ex-teammate and star-crossed winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis, told me:
“I don’t think I know anything that anyone else knows,” Landis told me. “People have perceptions of him that might not be very accurate, but I don’t know any details that they wouldn’t know. The guy is obsessed. With whatever he does he is obsessed, and whatever he does he wants to be the best at it.
“Ultimately, he doesn’t have a lot of close friends because of it and he winds up not being the nicest guy. But that doesn’t make him a doper. That doesn’t make him a cheater. It might make him someone you don’t want to be around, but that doesn’t mean he took advantage of anyone else or that he deserves the harassment some people are giving him.”
Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon, bike race or any other type of sporting/endurance event understands how it can turn folks in possessed creatures. The training gets into your blood and becomes an obsession like a drug or a disease. In the midst of all the training, with its loneliness, suffering, pain, sacrifice and forced asceticism, the athlete can’t wait for race to arrive. He just wants to be done with it and take a break – you know, maybe have a beer or a slice of pizza or something.
But go to the finish line of a race and people can see some athletes stumbling around not in the stupor of physical exertion, but instead the lost feeling of not knowing what to do next.
When the training and the race ends, then what? Where do we go from here?
For Lance it is back on the saddle again, which is where he always wanted to be.
More: “Lance Armstrong Rides Again” – Douglas Brinkley for Vanity Fair