How does Lance Armstrong do it? People ask that. I used to wonder myself if he had discovered some drug that has not yet showed up on the testing radar. Greg LeMond certainly seems to feel that Lance is up to no good. LeMond earlier this year made noises during an interview about the need for Lance to fess up and admit it. Then there was a book that came out which claimed Armstrong was not “clean.”
The Greg LeMond I remember was a fair-minded guy who never really bad-mouthed any other cyclist when he was competing, so his comments personally caused me great distress. Do these two guys have bad blood going on now? Lance recently made noises about how he wouldn’t be putting on weight once he retired, the way LeMond did. So, let’s assume something is up and they hate each other now. Maybe LeMond is a bit jealous of what Lance has accomplished.
LeMond was actually the first American cyclist to really put the sport on the map in this country. He rode some fine races in the Tour, and showed a world of courage. His final day time trial, when he came from a nearly impossible time deficit to beat Tour leader Laurent Fignon in 1989, was the most remarkable Tour finish EVER. No two ways about it. And LeMond did not have the strong teams committed to him the way Lance does today. So yes, I suspect there may be jealousy in the mix somewhere.
But still, I have come to the conclusion that Lance is the straight shooter he appears to be. He is simply a remarkable physical specimen, as CNN reported last night in a story about him. Physically, he has genes to die for, in spite of those same genes predisposing him to testicular cancer. His cancer did one good thing, it made him lose about twenty pounds. Not that he was a fattie to begin with. But Lance started athletic life as a triathlete, and they tend to carry a few more pounds (in muscle) than most cyclists need. So losing the weight was an excellent thing for him.
The CNN report also detailed how his heart is larger than most hearts, it pumps nearly double the amount of blood of regular folk. He has beautiful muscles too, they can go a lot longer without the same amount of lactic acid buildup that depletes the systems of other athletes.
In a word, the man is built for suffering, and that is really what the Tour de France comes down to. It’s not about the bike, although having a high-tech bike like the ones out there today can certainly help your confidence. It’s not even about the training, although Armstrong trains scientifically, meticulously, and you always need good training under your belt.
It’s all about how your mind, body and psyche process the suffering you are undergoing.
Armstrong suffers, I do not mean to say otherwise. He is human. But it’s the way he deflects it, absorbs it, resolves it. However you want to tackle the metaphysics of the thing. When you watch the faces of the guys climbing those mountain peaks, sweat dripping off them, you can almost tell they are in another time zone. Having climbed a few peaks in my time, it really helps if you can just let your mind, willingly, go deep into the suffering, until that ferocious wall of pain starts to break down, to become diffuse, and you feel you’ve broke through something. It’s almost meditation in action. LOTS of action.
The other day I heard Lance say, speaking of how he trains, that he loves going out for a six hour training ride, and wrecking himself. That’s exactly how I used to speak about it. You were happy you wrecked your body. Wrecking your body was the Key to the Kingdom.
Another time I heard him say, “I go out for six hours, maybe in the rain, maybe in the heat, I wreck my body, I come home, I feel great.”
Lance is the only athlete I can recall, besides Andre Agassi, who can so beautifully describe his inner workings as an athlete, and how that affects him as a human being.
That is what sets Lance apart from the rest of the field. They all know how to suffer, that’s why they’re here. For that feeling of exhilaration when you break through so much suffering. The endorphins just flow, you feel like you’ve ingested the finest drug the world has to offer.
Lance knows how to drain this particular cup like nobody else. Fortunately, in a few days, the liquidity of suffering will be magically transformed, this time into champagne, as he stands atop the victor’s podium.
Damn, the boy looks great in yellow.
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