Posted by Editor on 07/19/10
Matt Hansen - former pro racer and erstwhile CC writer - has decided that after some time in the corporate world he missed the cycling community. Plus, as always, he has a lot to say...
Years ago, a bunch of other young whippersnappers were up in Sudbury somewhere for a race. I can't even remember the name of the race - it was Saturday and Sunday - but I do remember that Dave Butler (I was riding for Jet Fuel at the time) sent us up there to do some local racing. Why? So we could a) remind people we existed, as we'd been racing in the US at some tough races for most of the spring at and b) remind ourselves we were still good bike racers, as we had been racing in the US at some tough races for most of the spring.
I don't remember much about the first day of racing because it was pissing rain all day; we raced on a little circuit and there were about 6 people racing. 4 of those 6 all shared a hotel room (we had some hangers-on who had nowhere to stay) and of those four, I'm pretty sure one of us must have won the Saturday race.
We were pretty bored that day, in fact I don't even think we were in Sudbury proper, it was on the outskirts - so there was even less to do. We got dinner, then had to kill time before we watched the Tour on OLN. So we went to the local Shoppers, looked at magazines, swung by an adult video store and looked at dildos. There was nothing to do, seriously. We couldn't even hit on girls in the 'hood - there were none.
And then we all piled back to our hotel room, had a beer and made lots of stupid jokes about who was strongest in the race earlier that day, replayed corners and attacks. Then we turned on the real race - the Tour de France. It was the first day, which meant it was the prologue. We watched all our faves - Zulle, Ullrich, et al. And this was the year that Lance Armstrong was racing the Tour again on his revamped US Postal squad. He had raced the year before with the team, had some good results and people were talking. But it was Lance, you know, the classics and one day guy. I think he'd had a good run at the Vuelta the year before, but hey, that was the Vuelta.
And so in between roughhousing, homo-erotic dryhumping (it happens when guys share hotel rooms, I just don't know why, but it does), drinking "a" beer and somehow retelling stories all night about a one hour race that was not at all exciting, we saw something: Lance had the fastest time in the prologue.
Lance Armstrong? In yellow? Naw. Couldn't happen. But the time stood up and all of a sudden Mr. Classics guy was in the yellow jersey, having beaten all the favourites. It was surreal. It was like watching Madonna kiss Britney Spears. It was like seeing a celebrity's boobs, or watching Conrad Black sneak files out of his office. Lance in yellow.
Of course, we all knew he'd lose it the next day, or if he didn't, he wouldn't keep it that long. He was not really a climber, despite some of his successes in smaller stage races or even the fourth at the Vuelta. This was the TOUR, man.
And so flash forward to a few days ago, seeing the dude crash, and suffer. It was just as surreal. Despite all the rumours, innuendo and gossip we've all heard about him (which, according to the rule of cycling, might end up being quite true: Where there is smoke, it seems, there is always fire - but that's for another column), watching the guy race has always been a treat. Even on camera, the dude is infectious, riveting. So calm in the storm, such a good orator. A politician, a PR master. But fascinating. And, at the end of the day, even if every single guy is doped to the gills, including Lance - he's still been incredible all these years. Even if everyone is clean and Lance is the only one doped to the gills on some designer drug or blood booster that we don't know about - he's still managed to win 7 Tours. 7 Tours!
Even if the UCI and every lab is in his pocket - he's stayed upright, avoided crashes, flats and all the bad luck that usually faces riders. That's what's truly amazing about the guy. He's never had a jours sans, a flat tire at an inopportune time, a crash that put him out. Look at Zulle, Beloki, Evans, Ullrich. Each of these guys has had bad luck that has put them out of contention. It's truly amazing.
So, a few days ago, it was the end of an era. Lance will never be back in the Tour (I'm pretty sure both his age and the shadow of controversy will ensure retirement is final this time.) And even with the clouds surrounding him, the good, the bad and the ugly, it was sort of sad seeing Lance struggle to even get to the bottom of the climb unscathed. Watching him chase back on with his teammates - we all knew that even when he would catch on, he'd have problems starting at the back of the climb. A little part of me thought, "Yeah but it's Lance - maybe he could catch on and stay with the leaders, even though they are going 50 km/h?" But I knew. We all knew. We knew that there was nothing that could save him. And we watched him catch on, only to be dropped. And an era ended. Again. But the same time, drugs or no drugs, we will always know one thing: Lance is human and a fighter.
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