Lance Armstrong

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When I was very small, my dad took me to a bike race. I don’t remember where, but I remember that it was cloudy, we were sitting on the side of a hill, and the racers went “WOOSH” as they passed by us. Then my dad drove us home in his white Toyota Celica, shifting gears with his big right hand while I watched the world pass by out the window, my little feet tightly wedged into Stride-Rites dangling off the seat.

My dad loves cycling. He loves a lot of sports – Formula 1 racing, motorcycle racing, football – but cycling is his love. One of his favorite bike frames is hanging from the brick chimney in my parent’s living room. He exudes cycling.

I didn’t understand why my dad loved cycling so much.

Truth be told, I didn’t understand a lot about my dad. I didn’t think he liked me very much. I didn’t think he loved me very much.   We were so alike, and we continue to be remarkably similar (no one can stand awkwardly with their hands in their pockets for long periods of time better than us). I sound like my mom, but I look like my dad – same flat nose, same flat feet, same long legs. Perhaps those similarities made him uncomfortable. Maybe it was getting closer to the age when his own father died.

We were two people in one house who barely spoke. But then we met Lance.

You have to understand: in 1997, my dad was alone in the wilderness of being a cycling enthusiast in the United States. Greg LeMond won his last Tour in 1990, the same year I turned 3. If you wanted to watch the Tour de France, you either taped it live at 3AM on some bullshit channel we couldn’t afford, or you hoped that Phil Ligget and Armen Keteyian would show up on 4PM on Sundays on CBS during the Tour and run through the week’s stages. Cycling enthusiasts hung out at bike shops and talked about Miguel Indurain and Eddie Merckx but no one – no one – else cared.

But then Lance happened.

Lance was a triathlete, then a cancer patient, and then a cancer survivor, and then a seven-time Tour de France champion.

He was one of the greatest athletes I have ever seen.

During a race that lasts for three weeks and over 2,000 miles, a race that has actually killed people, he separated himself from the field. He would toy with his competitors, hanging back and then exploding up mountains that towered over the French countryside while we followed along on TV. During time trials, he’d move so fast that it barely seemed like he was moving at all until you realized that the team car following him was doing 45 miles per hour.

He did things like this. 

He made literal mountains into molehills. 98 degrees in the middle of July, and he’d spurn rest or breaks to chase down an opponent and bring him back into the Peloton. I cannot emphasize enough what it was like to watch him race. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time – imagining that a human being, a human being like me and you and my mom and Bob Costas, could do that, become that.

After watching with my dad, I’d run outside and get on my bike and pretend that I was going for a Tour stage win, Phil Ligget’s voice in my head: “She’s going for it! She’s going for the win! She’s going to be Tour Champion!” Lance inspired my dad, too. He started running, entered a triathlon, biked for dozens of miles every weekend.

Doping? My dad and I never thought Lance would dope. Never. We’d been fooled before (the Festina affair, Floyd Landis) but could the man who made this Nike ad be a doper? 

As far as we knew, he was just genetically gifted. Cycling magazines told that perhaps chemo gave him the right body type to win in the Tour – pure muscle, no fat. His lungs were naturally bigger. His heart could pump more blood. He was just better than everyone else, better than LeMond, better than Indurain, better than everyone who had ever done the Tour.

Of course that wasn’t true. None of it was. Everyone was doping. Lance, George Hincapie, the entire USPS team was either doping or knew about it. As testing for doping got better, racers got better at doping. Too bad, so sad, the end.

And I know that. But I also know that for three weeks every July, my dad and I would sit in our airless living room and watch magic happen. We saw the same tiny French towns each year, the same fans, the same horses running alongside the road, the same perfect entrance into Paris on the final day. We sat together for all seven of Lance’s Tour wins, and though those wins no longer count, the hours my dad and I spent together talking about Lance, reading about Lance, arguing about whether Lance’s team was strong enough to carry him through the team time trial, watching old tapes of Lance taking on Alp d’ Huez – those moments count.

I love my dad. I love our phone conversations, our terrible World War 2 jokes, his strength. I love how he loves my mom, and how he cares for his family. I love how we finally have bridged the gap between us to be father and daughter, true friends. Lance lied to us, like how he lied to everyone around him and probably, in some ways, to himself.

But what Lance did for me and my dad? Bringing us together?

That’s true.

 

 

 

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