at any cost

Posted on June 28, 2009
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Ahhhh, the Tour approaches.  I shall be writing more extensively on this festival of pain as the great day draws closer, but first, as a kind of appetizer, I offer you this interview with David Millar, the great British time triallist, busted for use of EPO and now riding as the poster boy for the clean team (He hasn’t won anything for a while now) as he contemplates the return of the Tour’s greatest ever rider, Lance Armstrong. From The Guardian

It is very hard for other cyclists to relate to Lance Armstrong. We respect him – there is no doubt about that – because of what he has achieved and how he races his bike. He is clearly one of the greatest bicycle racers in history. But outside of that, it is very hard for us to even fathom what he achieves. It is, even for us, his peers, unfathomable what he does.

Before Lance came along, cycling tended to be dominated by riders like Miguel Indurain: very elegant and classy on the bike, silent and dignified off it, the classic great cycling champion. Often that was because they came from simple backgrounds and weren’t very articulate, or they didn’t have many opportunities to speak. Lance from the start was the super-confident American whose style of racing was very domineering. He rarely gave gifts to riders and would take great of pleasure in crushing whoever he was racing against. Not many of the great champions do that.

I turned pro on a team with him in 1997 when he was coming out of his cancer. He must have been at his weakest then – bald, no eyebrows, nothing – but he still had an air of confidence. He was cocky and brash, the all-American sporting jock. He was almost the Lance Armstrong that he is now in fact, just without all the Tour de France wins.

Our relationship has always been close but it is quite complex. We are very different people. I’ve not got that absolutely deep-down need to win. I enjoy it, I love racing, I love winning, but it doesn’t control my whole life. I guarantee that you have never met anybody like him. He is very good at channelling every single element of his being into doing one thing. I don’t know him well enough to know if that costs him anything else in the rest of his life, but he is as close as you get to somebody who is on another level to most human beings. He doesn’t make mistakes, Lance, ever. If he decides to do something, he ends up doing it.

But he is also complex and paradoxical. He can be very unforgiving, and yet at the same time he can be incredibly kind and empathetic. It’s an odd mix. During the Tour de France, just after I’d been banned, he rang me up to make sure I was OK. I think he’s always treated me as a wayward little brother – we understand each other and we agree to disagree.

People talk about his effect on cycling, and when he was riding the Tour de France, he was omnipresent. It was always, “How is Lance going to react? What’s Lance going to do?” And it got to the point towards the end of those seven Tours where everyone knew how it was going to happen: his team, US Postal, were basically going to control the race, he was going to do well in the first time trial, he was going to smash everyone in the first mountain stage and then defend. So everyone’s race became based around Lance’s tactics and style of winning the race. Since he’s left, the race has become a lot more open, less predictable.

I was very surprised when I heard he was coming back. It is easy to stop loving the dieting, the lifestyle, the training, and pushing through the difficult moments when it’s not happening. But all of us love the racing when it’s going well – that’s why you do it. The only thing I can think of is that he missed the racing, which is understandable, because in order to win seven Tours, he has to love it deeply. more


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