Last night, while out with a group of friends, Jonathan (visiting NYC from Austin) pointed out that I had not written anything on Lance Armstrong's recent victory in the Tour de France. I didn't have much to add to the media coverage of his latest win, and I'm lazy. So there. Ron Borges had this nasty little opinion piece on him on MSNBC.com earlier this week, arguing that Armstrong isn't an athlete because cycling isn't a sport. Too bad for him that he has the minority opinion on the subject. When last I checked, the poll in the sidebar, asking whether you agreed with Borges, was running 97% disagreed, or slightly less than 44,000 responses. The article is worth reading if only to see how tough it is for Borges to find reasons to bash cycling. He strains so hard to make his point that I wonder if he really believes what he's writing, or if his editor just wanted a opposing point of view for that day's paper.
As a cyclist, of course I'm going to argue that it's a sport, and that Armstrong is perhaps the greatest athlete competing today. The Tour is probably the most difficult sporting event on the planet. You do ride with a team, but you have to use your own legs all the time, and you can't take a day off except for the two rest days during the race. I'm planning to ride 100 miles in a day later this summer, and all my weekend rides and exercises are with this goal in mind. And that's only for one day! During the TdF, every day it's over 100 miles of rolling hills, steep climbs, and dizzying descents. And it's not like Armstrong only does this for a few months a year. This is his life. He lives in France most of the year so he can train on the same mountains he'll ride during the Tour. His training regimen sometimes includes riding up a steep mountainside, back down the way he came up, then (when most of us would say "enough already, I'm going home") he turns around and rides back up the mountain again. He does this every day. I love cycling, but I can't fathom what that must feel like. And he's survived cancer! I can't believe anyone would think that this man is not performing feats of athleticism far beyond those of everyday sports heroes like Shaquille O'Neal and Sammy Sosa.
When I was growing up, I idolized Terry Bradshaw, the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers during their 1970s heyday. He was a leader on the field, he won two Super Bowl MVP awards, had a great passing arm, and played for my favorite team. The things he could do on the field, even when the rest of the team was terrible, were unbelievable to my pre-teen eyes. On the few occasions I played football with my friends, I wanted to be the quarterback, so I could imagine myself as Bradshaw, throwing touchdown passes to Lynn Swann. I still get a kick out of him in his NFL on FOX gig, but I can't say that he's still my idol. Lance Armstrong has become my new ideal sports hero, and the person I think of when I'm riding my bike. When I climb a steep hill, I think about how he attacks the mountains and 'dances on his pedals' as he rides uphill faster than anyone else. (I saw that quote in an article about one of his Tour wins, and I've always wondered what that looks like.) I know I'll never ride in the Tour de France, but it inspires me to ride harder anytime I think of Armstrong, and I think inspiration is what heroes are all about. That sounds really sappy, but I can't think of any better way to put it.