I can still remember the day I was in the REI in Roseville, MN. I was picking up a few things before a flight to Michigan and wanted to grab a magazine or two to read on the plane. Staring out from the cover of Outside in black and white was some guy named Lance Armstrong. He was going to be riding in that crazy Tour de France thing and the authors were making a big deal out of the fact he was trying to win his record-breaking sixth Tour. They had great stories about the other men who had accomplished the feat of 5 tours and the misfortunes they encountered chasing number six. They were names that meant nothing to me then. Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain. The magazine previewed the stages. I had never before considered trying to follow the Tour, but decided I would pay attention that year. Of course, that was 2004. And I was hooked.
Hooked on pro cycling, yes. But also hooked on Lance Armstrong. I read “It’s Not About the Bike.” I read, “Every Second Counts.” I even read “The Lance Armstrong Performance Program” and got similarly hooked on Chris Carmichael’s coaching. I bought t-shirts and hats commemorating his victories. My long-suffering wife bought me a Postal jersey that I still have (and that actually fits me now). Off the top of my head, I have 5 shirts, 1 pair of sweat pants, 2 pairs of socks, 2 cycling jerseys, 1 pair of cycling shorts, a cycling jacket, a cycling vest and a couple of baseball caps that are all Armstrong or LiveStrong related. And of course, the LiveStrong wristband, which I have worn daily since July 2004. Eight years of yellow silicone around my wrist.
Armstrong retired from cycling after his Tour win in 2005 and I rather thought I wouldn’t pay attention to pro road cycling anymore. I had moved to Michigan and was living in a mountain biking mecca. (Seriously, I have an IMBA Epic trail an hour from my doorstep, which has been recently earned the distinction of an IMBA Ride Center. There are four — count ’em, four — excellent trail systems within an hour of my house.) Who needed road cycling? I kept watching and hearing about new races like the Giro, the Vuelta, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix. It was never the same without Lance, but I was slowly growing ever more attached to the sport, despite my own predilection to ride dirt.
Then Armstrong rode Leadville. He joined Twitter. He announced a Comeback. He rode the Giro, Flanders. He was going to the Big Dance again. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. He nearly won the Tour again. He won Leadville. He started his own team. I know all of this without going to Wikipedia or any of my numerous books. Why? For some reason, I can’t stop caring about Lance Armstrong.
I’ve been training for a triathlon this summer and there’s a tiny part of me that says it must be okay, because Armstrong has been focused on 70.3 Half-Iron triathlons this year. If Lance can be a triathlete, why can’t I?
What makes me think this way? What it is about this man and his exploits that intrigues me so much? I’m not blind to his faults (and he certainly has some), but I would be nervously tongue-tied if I ever met him.
Perhaps some of it is loyalty to Armstrong as a brand. I am famously brand-loyal, even to a fault. I would suppose there is some psychological rationale for brand-loyalty. In any case, it is there and I am (mostly) unashamed.
I have other cyclists I like to watch now. Ryder Hesjedal, Dave Zabriskie, Todd Wells, Jeremy Powers. Somehow I don’t think they’ll ever displace Armstrong though. That’s okay, I think. Just as long as I’m aware of my insanity!
If nothing else, I hope I’m healthy enough at age 40 to complete a 70.3 triathlon. (Now to Twitter to see if Armstrong has mentioned anything while I wrote this!)