Like the changing of the seasons, another Tour de France has come and gone and Lance Armstrong has ridden off victorious again.
15th stage of this year’s Tour de France on July 21. Armstrong
threw down the gauntlet after falling during the stage, roaring
back to win it with an amazing show of perseverance.
It’s getting to the point where we are running out of superlatives to describe this guy.
Don’t worry, I’m sure I can find a few more.
His fifth straight victory in the cycling’s premier annual event may have surpassed his previous four, because he had so many obstacles to overcome this time.
The organizers changed the course this year to have fewer mountain stages (Armstrong’s specialty), he avoided a huge wreck involving several riders in the first stage, just missed crashing into fallen rider Joseba Beloki of Spain (who wound up with a broken leg, elbow and wrist) in another incident, and finally, survived his own wipe out in the 15th stage.
The final escape (from his own fall) was followed by one of the single most incredible athletic performances I have ever seen — in person or on television.
I have been blessed in my life to have seen the Olympics, the World Cup Final, Super Bowls, the NBA Finals and many other significant events, but what I saw that night may have surpassed any sporting feat I have witnessed.
When the 31-year-old Armstrong got off the deck and climbed back on his bike, then nearly fell again a few seconds later when his feet came off the pedals, what followed was a sensational show of grit and determination.
Buoyed by a burst of adrenaline — and sensing the urgency of the moment — Armstrong proceeded to storm to victory in the stage — his only one of this Tour — and set the tone for the rest of the race.
After falling, the sporting gesture of Germany’s Jan Ullrich (who slowed down and waited) allowed Armstrong to catch up. Shortly thereafter, Spain’s Ivan Mayo tried to breakaway from the pack and Armstrong went after him.
Armstrong shed Mayo relatively quickly, then proceeded to overtake stage leader Sylvain Chavanel of France, who was a considerable distance in front, but began to fade on the final climb to the finish line.
It’s an old cliche — ‘That’s what champions are made of” — but apropos in this case.
I still remember sitting on the couch watching (as I did many nights during the race) that 15th stage on JSky Sports and being just gripped by the action. The camera work was incredible, to the point of where you almost felt like you were riding in the race.
With Armstrong entering the stage only 15 seconds ahead of Ullrich and the mountain stages starting to dwindle, I had a very uneasy feeling. When Armstrong took the tumble — well into the stage — I awoke my one-year-old daughter, who was asleep on the couch next to me, with my ‘Oh, no!’
She raised her little head, looked around, and lucky for me, went right back to sleep. I then had the chance to settle in and watch Armstrong in what may have been his finest hour.
When he took off and left Mayo behind, I thought, ‘He’s making his move.’ Then, when I saw Chavanel starting to struggle up the final mountain, and Armstrong gaining speed with each kilometer, I thought, ‘He’s going to pass this guy and win the stage!’
Sure enough, that is exactly what happened.
Talk about compelling — it was almost ridiculous.
I don’t think Hollywood could have come up with a better script.
There were still five stages to go, but psychologically, Armstrong won the Tour on that day.
We all know the story of how Armstrong overcame cancer to become an American sporting legend. Usually, when a tale becomes as repetitious as his — victory every year — the public becomes bored. But not with this guy.
The more you see of him, the more you want to see.
I am not sure the term inspiration is even sufficient to describe what you feel when you watch Armstrong compete.
It is why a few months back, when I filled out my ballot for the annual World Sports Awards, I chose Armstrong as the male athlete of the year.
There were other good nominees, but it was clear to me he was the most deserving. It came as no surprise to me a couple of months later when he was named the winner of the honor.
It was quite an achievement for a cyclist, but for Armstrong, who has the admiration of many of his fellow professional athletes, it was just another accolade in what has truly become an incredible life.
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