Road Bike, Cycling Forums banner
1 - 4 of 4 Posts

· Banned
4,302 Posts
Can you paste the article here? The link you gave says a paid subscription is required.

· Registered
2,655 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
As requested

Sintesi said:
Can you paste the article here? The link you gave says a paid subscription is required.
A legend? I would rather be remembered as a great dad
By Alastair Campbell
Cancer, death, WMD, Bush, drugs, divorce ... and five Tour de France victories. Discussions at the summit with Lance Armstrong were tough and uncompromising

ONCE Lance Armstrong had agreed to a rare interview at his home in Northern Spain, e-mails on logistics from his staff in Texas referred to “the Armstrong-Campbell summit”. This overstated somewhat the significance of the event, but not the sense of anticipation at meeting someone who, for some time, has been on my shortlist of indisputable sporting greats.

I had read the books, seen the films, got the replica cycling shirt. With my family, I had gone to Paris last year to watch him coming down the Champs Elysées to collect his fifth Tour de France title. Now I was boarding a plane to Barcelona with a message from Texas that, when I got there, I’d get a call with the final details for “the summit”.

The call was on my answering machine when I landed and it was the great man himself. “Hey, Alastair, it’s Lance.” Very Texan. Very friendly. “We’re gonna meet tomorrow. I’m probably biking in the morning, so come by maybe 2. That’ll be great. If you need directions, just call.” And then he leaves his number and I think, that’s interesting, leaving your home number for someone you’ve never met. We talk a couple of times, about the race he’s just run, about Girona. I say I’ll get a haircut while he’s out training. “In Girona? Mmm. Could be risky,” and he laughs.

When I arrive at the flat at the scheduled time, it is Sheryl Crow, his new pop-star girlfriend, who greets me at the door, very warm and welcoming. She comments favourably on the haircut, then Armstrong appears at the end of the hallway, smaller and slighter than he looked on the bike in Paris, big Texan smile, T-shirt, blue jeans, brown boots. A long, firm handshake and we go into the kitchen for coffee and curly little chocolate biscuits he says he got from a store down the street.

He lives, close to several of his US Postal Service team colleagues, in a first-floor, four-bedroom apartment at the heart of Girona’s old town. Although a confirmed atheist, he takes me almost immediately to the tiny chapel, lovingly describes its features, and, above all, the 15th-century painting of the Crucifixion that takes pride of place.

A married man with three young children, he bought the flat as a wreck and, with the help of a young Texan architect, transformed it into a beautiful family home. Huge photos of his children cover the wall of the study, but the marriage to Kristin is over, so Armstrong’s four-year-old son, Luke, and his two-year-old twin daughters, Grace and Isabelle, are in Texas. As he’s showing off the 12th-century stonework in the tiny cloistered garden, he says this is where he used to play with them and he misses his children so much that it hurts.

Once we settle down to talk at a long wooden table, we are swapping stories about George W. Bush, his fellow Texan. We agree that our politics are different to Bush’s, but that the President is smarter, funnier and more likeable than the caricature. Even Sheryl, whose politics Armstrong describes as “way out Left”, says that it’s hard to meet Bush and not like him. I had assumed, because he and Bush were Texans and I’d seen pictures of them laughing and joking in the Oval Office, that Armstrong was a Republican. But he says his politics are “middle to Left”. He is “against mixing up State and Church, not keen on guns, pro women’s right to choose”. And very anti war in Iraq.

So the “summit” has begun and here I am, thinking that I’d be getting hours of top-quality insight for my triathlon training, and, instead, it’s like I am back in my old job, defending military action, defending the Bush-Blair relationship, insisting we did the right thing and saying, long term, it will make the world a safer place. But Armstrong is screwing up his face and he won’t have it. “I don’t like what the war has done to our country, to our economy,” he says. “My kids will be paying for this war for some time to come. George Bush is a friend of mine and just as I say it to you, I’d say to him, ‘Mr President, I’m not sure this war was such a good idea’, and the good thing about him is he could take that.”

He mocks my line that you have to “give it time” before those weapons of mass destruction show up. “You know when they caught Saddam and the doctors were rooting through his beard and Sheryl said to me, ‘Why are they doing that?’ and I said, ‘They’re looking for them weapons’. Come on, man.” He laughs and shakes his head and I know I’m not going to persuade him. “What’s Blair like?” he asks. “He a good guy?” I say he is. “Yeah, looks a good guy.”

Enough of politics. Now for religion. Despite the chapel, despite the crucifix around his neck (a link with a fellow cancer patient), Armstrong is deeply suspicious of organised religion. He never knew his “so-called father”, and he says that in all his 32 years, he has never asked his Mum, Linda, a single question about him. He was born with the name Gunderson, then his mother married the man who gave him his name. Terry Armstrong talked religion but used to beat Lance with a paddle and he was relieved when he walked out. “He was like me in that he got his name from someone else,” Armstrong says. “His biological name was Love. But his Mom married a man named Raymond Armstrong, a preacher. It’s weird, I’ve got his name, my kids have his name but I have never met him and I never want to meet him.”

His stance on religion is in marked contrast to his wife’s ever more fervent Catholicism and the difference may have been one of the factors that led to their marriage breaking up. Armstrong believes it is possible to be a good person while not believing. “I think we all have obligations to be good, honest, hard-working, caring and compassionate,” he says. “You have to try and it won’t always be easy but you try your best. I do not believe that because you are not prepared to submit yourself to a god or a higher being, that when you get to the end of the road, you will be sent down. I’m not prepared to believe that.”

The language of religion is never far away when Armstrong talks about his sport: sacrifice, pain and forfeit as the route to improving mind and body; sport as a calling with a higher purpose. In one of his two autobiographies, he said that life is a series of false limits and his job is to challenge them on a bike. I ask him to explain. “Cycling is one of the two or three toughest sports in the world. The Tour de France is the ultimate sporting event. I don’t think there is a harder sporting event anywhere. Imagine a marathon and Formula One combined — that’s what it’s like. It’s three weeks of agony and it’s hard and it hurts and it can be dangerous and every single guy who does it is one tough *******.”

Armstrong is one of five men to have won the Tour five times. If he wins this year, he’ll become the first — and probably the last — to win six. It is a remarkable record. He was a good cyclist before having testicular cancer diagnosed in 1996. It spread to the lung and the brain. He saw off the disease and emerged a great cyclist. He is in no doubt that it’s the cancer that made the difference. He talks of it like some people talk of their closest friend.

“There are two periods to my sporting career — pre-illness and post-illness,” he says. “I was always focused and hard-working. Even when I was a swimmer aged 12, I put in the miles, bored out of my mind following the black line in the pool, I worked and I suffered even then, I could endure the pain and the boredom. But I came out of the illness and I had a totally different perspective. I was a fanatic. I said to myself, ‘I only have a few years on the bike and I’m going to pack in an awful lot in those few years’.”

It is his cheating of death, the heroism of his comeback, his record since that makes him one of the most inspiring sportsmen of all time. I have met many so-called “famous people”; Armstrong is the first I have gone to meet carrying strict instructions from all three of my children to come back with his autograph. I said they could have three questions for him, too.

Kids’ question one: What is your resting pulse rate? “I don’t take it, but I guess it would be around 40. I have a little box on my handlebars that tells me time, speed, watts, heart rate, cadence, distance. I can measure everything in average mode, or maximum mode, and I can download it at the end of a run and send it to my coach. My highest-ever heart rate was 207 beats per minute, 15 years ago. Today I can hit the high 190s, but only hold it for a minute or so. My fastest-ever speed was 75mph, freewheeling down a hill in the Pyrenees.”

Question two: What advice do you have for a young athlete? “Go hard or go home.”

Question three: Have you met anyone who can endure as much pain as you? “I don’t know about those crazy adventure sports but in mainstream sport, probably not. But there are people outside sport who endure more pain. A wounded soldier left lying on the battlefield will endure more pain. Or someone who has cancer and they get new and different bad news that requires different cocktails of drugs, different surgeries and procedures that cause whole new sets of pain and confusion and despair.

“That’s why I have a different perspective to a lot of athletes — because that is real pain that most athletes don’t have to endure. And those people with cancer, lots of them, nobody wants their autograph, nobody wants to interview them or take their picture; they get no credit for anything but boy, they are tough people.”

Armstrong will, he says, “be a cancer fighter for the rest of my life”, lobbying, among others, his friend in the White House, as he did recently before the President’s State of the Union address, raising awareness, raising funds for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, helping people by telling his own story. “People in the US are more scared of cancer than they are of terrorism, by a long way. I can give them something, a bit of hope.”

He says he never tires of talking about cancer. “It is unavoidable for me. It is who I am and it is the reason I am what I am. I credit it with a lot of the success I have had because it encouraged me to fight and to go out and get success on a bike. And it caused me to be a brutally open and honest person.”

It is also what continues to spur him. I ask whether he contemplates losing the Tour this year and how he would feel if he did. Now the language of death replaces the language of religion. “I don’t like to think about how I’d feel but it’s three wild weeks, the other guys are damn good, anything can happen, so I do think about it, of course I do. When I was sick, I didn’t want to die. When I race, I don’t want to lose. Dying and losing, it’s the same thing.

“Since I came back from cancer, I’ve never lost a Tour, so I don’t know what it feels like and I don’t want to. I suspect it would feel different at 32 than it would have done at 28 or 29. This could be my last year. I cannot imagine myself being retired 12 months from now, but I’m open to the possibility that there will be a tap on the shoulder and someone says, ‘Time’s up’. If I lost, I just don’t know if I would say, ‘OK, I ’m past my prime, time to go’, or if I’d say, ‘I’ve got to try again’. Knowing myself and the people who know me best, I think they’d say the guy has to try again.”

As for the majority of athletes who, fortunately, won’t get cancer to spur them on, what turns them from good to great? “I’ve debated this with myself for years,” he says. “Is it the physical or the mental? It has to start with the physical. That’s what you need to get good. Then you’ve got to have all the mental tools. You’ve got to be so focused. You’ve got to work the hardest, you’ve got to be the toughest.

“This job is 24 hours a day. From the minute you wake up and the food you put in your body. Stretching, your abdominal work. Resting or training or riding over a course before the race — it’s all part of your job as a cyclist.”

Armstrong is as enthusiastic today, he says, as when, having already excelled at swimming and running, he got his first bike in order to become a triathlete. We met on Monday, two days after he surprised himself by winning a time-trial near the end of the Tour of the Algarve. He was surprised, and happy, and he wonders about the effect it will have on Jan Ullrich, of Germany, his closest rival for this year’s Tour de France. “I’ve been thinking this morning — ‘ I wonder what Jan thought when he heard I won in Portugal, that I’m winning in February, when I’m nowhere near my peak’. And I was thinking what would I do if I heard Ullrich had won a time-trial in February?

“I don’t know what I would do. I think I’d get straight down and do 50 sit-ups just to say to myself I was doing something. I didn’t expect to win, but I did. This time of year is pure suffering for me. I’m not at my peak but I was better than I was on February 2 and I’ll be at my peak in July.”

I said that Haile Gebrselassie, the great Ethiopian middle-distance runner, had told me that he didn’t spend much time thinking about opponents. Armstrong smiled the smile of a sportsman who is never off-duty. “Do you think he was telling the truth? Some of these African guys are growing up in isolation, so maybe it’s different. But I think about my opponents a lot. I’m no good at bullshitting — I think about Ullrich all the time.”

He speaks fondly of his team-mates, says it irritates him that he can win “Athlete of the Year” awards yet nobody thinks to give a “Team of the Year” award to his colleagues, without whom he could not do it. He speaks highly of his coaches, his masseur and his mechanic, who go wherever he goes. But “when it comes, say, to sizing up a new bike, there is only one person I trust and that is myself. I’ll be the one out there with the tape measure.”

He admits that, when he retires, there are few cyclists outside his team that he is likely to stay in touch with. He cites David Millar, Britain’s leading cyclist, as a friend and a great talent, but it clearly frustrates him that the talent does not bear more fruit.

Of Marco Pantani, it is clear there was mutual respect but no great personal fondness. On how he felt on hearing that the Italian had recently been found dead in a hotel room, tranquillisers by his side, Armstrong says: “Of course, you are shocked when you hear news like that and I was sad, but I wasn’t totally surprised. People could see it coming but, of course, when it happens, there is real shock. We were not close. We had our fights on the Tours, in races, through the media.

But I respected him. He was damn good. He could go uphill very, very fast. He could explode a bike race, which is what good climbers do.”

When I ask him to name the best cyclist ever, he says most people would say the same — Eddy Merckx, the Belgian. “When you put down resumés of our careers side by side on two pieces of paper, his successes were incredible. They were so diverse: Tours, World Championships, one-hour records — he was an animal. But there are big differences, so you can’t always compare.

“In his day, there were maybe 10 or 20 at the top. Today there are 200 real quality riders, lots of specialists, so, whatever race you’re in, you are always up against top- quality competition. The quality of the field is much deeper than it was then. In Eddy’s day, at the start of the season, riders would turn up out of shape, hair on their legs, ride out, do a bit of a sprint at the finish and that was it. It is a different world now, more professional in many ways.

“Equally, if you look at times, my times on the same mountain would be faster than Eddy’s, but the roads are better, the bikes are faster, the coaching is better.”

I ask if he cares whether people think he is the best of all time. “I don’t care at all. Do you know, here I am going for a sixth Tour and it matters, it matters a lot. But in 20 years, it won’t matter to me. I’ll probably be in America, a long way from the scene of the Tour, and everyone will be watching football or baseball or basketball and if I turn around and suddenly say, ‘Hey, it’s really bugging me I didn’t get that sixth Tour’, they’ll say, ‘What the f*** is the Tour?’

“If it still bugged me, it would be like I was a stranger in my own strange land. It matters now because it’s what I do. But I’ll be doing something else then. I’ll always be leading something, whether it’s my foundation, a business, whatever.”

If you ask Armstrong a question, large or small, he answers it straight out. Favourite other sport? Tennis. Best player? Pete Sampras. Is that the same as favourite player? No, his favourite is Andre Agassi. “He has been the best, then the worst, then the best again, and he’s an exciting character.” Second favourite other sport? “I love American football but less than I did. I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan and we’ve been going through a bad time. Also, when the NFL changed the rules and made it a free agency market, the game changed for the worse.”

Baseball and basketball? “Don’t watch.” Soccer? Not really, but he’s noticed the Beckham phenomenon in Spain — “it’s something else”. Formula One? “I love it. I think Schumacher should get credit not just for being the best driver but for motivating Ferrari to make the car better and better. The head engineer is the man.”

Track and field? “El Guerrouj, that is one runner. I don’t know Marion Jones, but I like what I see. Paula Radcliffe, she is one bad ass.” I ask for a Texan to give an English translation. “She is the business, the works, a great runner. She eats the road.”

As to where he stands in the pantheon, you sense he doesn’t really care. Just like he doesn’t really care about the whispers that follow him and every other successful cyclist, whispers that say you cannot be that great so often, for so long, without the help of drugs. “This hot button on drugs will always be there,” Armstrong says. “The next thing will be genetic doping. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last (to get the whispers) but I know the truth and that’s what matters to me. People want to know that the guy who worked the hardest and fought the hardest and got the best coaches and the best team-mates went out and won fair and square, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The judgment Armstrong really craves is not that of his fellow professionals, or other sports nuts, and certainly not the media, but that of his children. Every day, they exchange video messages over the internet. But when he shows me the immaculate shed where his bikes and cycling paraphernalia are kept and he sees a child’s toy car in the corner, he winces and says: “That’s what gets to me, seeing that. What I really want to be remembered as is as a good father to my three kids. It is possible to be divorced and still be a good Dad.

“I am bitterly disappointed that my marriage failed. It is not what you sign up to. It is not what you sign up to when you have kids. We got together at a weird time. I was coming back from cancer and getting back into sport. I don’t know. Marriages are tough. Relationships are tough. I’m here with Sheryl now and it’s great, but there is no such thing as a day when everything is rosy all the time. Life’s not like that.

“My ex-wife and I are trying to get to that place where we’re a divorced couple, we’re never going to get back together but we can be friends and I can say, ‘I am father to your children’, and she can say, ‘I am mother to your children’, and we try to make it work.”

Staying together “for the sake of the children” would have been wrong, he says. “Children should be raised in a home of love and happiness and we couldn’t give that any more.” Was cycling a factor? Was his marriage one more thing that was sacrificed to his determination to challenge false limits on a bike? “Maybe, but there are a lot of factors. I just don’t know but it hurts because I miss the kids.

“And when I’m done with cycling, when nobody wants to photograph me any more, or interview me, or get my autograph, they’ll still be my kids and I’ll be their Dad and that means a whole lot more than anything. I’ve never gone big on the fame thing, because that means a whole lot more. I’ll always be their Dad. I’ll always be a cancer fighter. I won’t always be a cyclist.”

In any event, beyond winning another Tour, Armstrong has one more sporting ambition he has to fulfil. He wants to run a sub-five minute mile. “I’d hurt for a week after but I’d love to see if I could do that. Four laps, 75 seconds a lap, wouldn’t that be something?”

· Banned
4,302 Posts
You da man, Boneman.

1 - 4 of 4 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.