Note: This post was originally published on October 23, 2007 on my blog, under the title 'Riding with Lance'. I had just completed my second 100-mile ride with the LIVEstrong Challenge in Philly, a fundraising event Lance's foundation put on. During the first, he was not present. But during the second, he was, and I got to ride beside him.
Lance had been my idol. It started innocently enough when someone at a party once told me I looked like him. I took that to heart to the extent that I started cycling in earnest, discovered a new sport I liked. I bought his team jersey's, I bought a Trek Madone painted in the Discovery Team scheme. I dressed like him for Halloween one year at Penn State. Ryan Briggs, my co-host on the Two Inspired Guys podcast, made fun of me for this obsession incessantly in college. I probably wasn't unlike hundreds of other cycling fans. He fooled us all. I think more than anything else, that Floyd Landis has to feel pretty good today. I've felt bad for him all along more than anyone else. Check out Malcolm Gladwell on the BS Report this week...he makes some good points to the contrary, but it's a pretty bad deal nonetheless.
This is what I wrote in 2007 after riding with him...
"Riding with Lance" Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This one has been a long time coming, and I’m mad at myself for not writing about it right after it happened. I’ll do my best to recount it anyway.
Mom and I at the start
At the end of August, I think around the 25th, I competed for a second year in a row in the Livestrong Challenge, a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Last year I’d done the event, a 100 mile bike ride through Philadelphia that took me 5-1/2 hours to complete, at the time the longest athletic event I’d ever done. I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for this year as soon as registration opened up.
This year was different though, in a big way. Lance was going to be there. It was rumored that he’d ride, but I still wasn’t sure of it, even as I lined up for the start. Since it’s a fundraiser, we had to endure a bunch of speeches thanking everyone before the event started, which translated into about 30 minutes of standing idly straddling your bike, and having to pee really really badly. I managed to work my way up to the front of the first group, the ‘fast’ 100 mile riders. I decided to get in this group, because, well, why not. It was a good choice.
After a few high-level administrators in the LAF spoke for a while, Lance took the podium. And he was geared up to ride. This was exciting to me. As it turns out he would lead a group of lucky people out onto the course, and got about a 5 minute head-start on the rest of the field. The ‘fast’ 100- milers would be the first group, and everyone it seemed was intent on catching the Lance group.
Hammering the finish
It was a slow start but the pace quickened considerably as we rolled out onto the highway and found our spots in the huge pack. I rode near the front, maybe 5 or 6 riders back, and we chased hard to try and catch Lance. Miraculously, within the first 5 miles we spotted his group of about 10 riders, and latched on to the back of that pack. It was strange, when i first spotted Lance riding. I don’t know why, it just was. I managed to squirm my way up through the group and soon found myself riding directly to his right. I had say something, and all I could muster was a ‘Hey Lance,’ to which he responded, ‘Hey.’ I made fun of his “girl’s bike” - he'd insisted on calling the newly launched Madone that when he saw it had a sloping top tube, so I called him out on it - he was riding that very bike in this event - and we chatted about the New York Marathon and the Tour. I was freaking riding with Lance-freaking-Armstrong! Once I had my spot, there was no way I was moving. I drifted around behind Lance and just watched him for a bit.
Watching someone at the absolute pinnacle of their profession do just about anything is truly amazing and inspiring. First of all, Lance’s calves are the size of canteloupes. He pedals with such grace and fluidity that it’s mesmerizing to watch. And when he jumps out of the saddle bursting up a small incline, he simply takes flight. He is so effortless on his bike it’s simply incredible to watch.
He glides down the road. And watching him from the side and while following him I realized why no one has ever come close to beating him. Even in this charity ride he rode with that look on his face.
This is ironic...
The highlight of my 20 miles with Lance came at the very end. He spent the better part of an hour or so chit-chatting with everyone that was swarmed around him. People were taking photos with their cell phones while trying to ride, and it kind of irritated me. I decided to just enjoy my ride and soak up every second of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Anyway, back to the highlight. It seemed as if Lance had had enough of riding with the riff-raff and quickened the pace. There was a series of short climbs, and he jumped out of the saddle and simple floated up these hills. Meanwhile, I’m following in awe of what I’m watching, while trying to keep up. I did. At one point, about halfway up a climb that Lance was just hammering, I looked behind me and another rider who was alongside and noticed that no one had followed. It was me, another regular rider, and Lance, in a three-man breakaway at the front of the pack. I glanced at the other rider and simply motioned for him to look behind us. All he said was “this is the coolest thing in the world.”
Finally Lance had had enough of us stragglers and put the hammer down, and that was the end of our fun. I watched as he stormed up the final big climb and again understood why nobody ever beat him. It was a moment I’ll forever remember, Lance hammering up that hill by himself. I was dropped by the greatest cyclist of all time, possibly the greatest athlete in any sport.
Imagine throwing a football with Joe Montana, playing nine holes with Tiger or hitting tennis balls with Roger Federer. That’s the thing about cycling...it’s so much more fan- friendly and accessible than any other sport. The Tour de France has no tickets to purchase, nor barriers on the course. And here’s Lance, possibly the most recognizable athlete in the world riding bikes with a bunch of normal people. He had no entourage, no security guards, no motorcycles following him. He was by himself, riding with the people, chatting with us, and then, finally, obliterating every one of us, reminding everyone that yes, he’s still the man.
Mmmm. Beer. 100 miles later.