RCS Sidelines

September 10, 2008 12:55 PM

Lance Armstrong: Lucky Number Eight?


That's what everyone's favorite cyclist will be hoping come July 4th of next year - the starting date of the 2009 Tour de France.

Lance Armstrong, a record seven-time winner (1999-2005), has announced that he'll be coming out of retirement to race for his eighth title. He has released a statement on his official website:

“I am happy to announce that after talking with my children, my family and my closest friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden."
But the news was first leaked yesterday in an interview he did with Vanity Fair.
He insisted he had something on his mind. “Something huge,” as he put it. I braced for the worst.

Then, in almost robotic fashion, he said, “I’m going back to professional cycling. I’m going to try and win an eighth Tour de France.”

For a moment I gaped at him. Was I being punked? (Armstrong would later tell Doug Ulman, the president and C.E.O. of L.A.F., that my eyes bulged into saucers, like some boinged-out character in a Ralph Steadman illustration.) As the news sank in, though, I realized he was deadly serious. I knew from Armstrong’s memoir, It’s Not About the Bike, that his VO2 max (the gauge by which the human body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen is measured) is superhuman, his ship-sail lungs uncommonly efficient.

But at age 37? A 2,000-mile, 23-day race, much of it uphill? By next July? I asked him, rather ungraciously, if he wasn’t too old to get back into shape that quickly.

He laughed. And he was off and running. “Look at the Olympics. You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50-meter event [freestyle], the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it. The woman who won the marathon [Constantina Tomescu-Dita, of Romania] was 38. Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale. Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32.

“Ultimately, I’m the guy that gets up. I mean, I get up out of bed a little slow. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I mean, my back gets tired quicker than it used to and I get out of bed a little slower than I used to. But when I’m going, when I’m on the bike—I feel just as good as I did before.”

I wasn’t totally buying it. “Are you really 100 percent going to race in the Tour de France?”

“One hundred percent!” he replied. “One hundred percent!”

Just to remind: "Back in October 1996, after winning two Tour stages, he’d been diagnosed with an aggressive strain of testicular cancer. He had had two surgeries: one to remove a cancerous testicle, another to remove two cancerous lesions on the brain. An additional 8 to 10 golf-ball-size tumors were found in his lungs. He’d been a dead man walking ... He was only 25 years old and had been given less than a 40 percent chance of survival."

And now? He plans to go for his eighth Tour de France. No one else has even won the race six times.

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