Go Lance, Go!

As much as I try to stay cool about the guy, Lance Arm­strong inspires me. There’s a lot about him that rubs me the wrong way, some of which I can’t even iden­ti­fy or artic­u­late. But then, beneath any­thing else, he’s a win­ner with a win­ning atti­tude. No mat­ter what else gets piled on, I just can’t resist the story.

In Every Sec­ond Counts, Lance weighs in on an old argu­ment: whether suc­cess comes from indi­vid­ual tal­ent or team­work. Accord­ing to Lance, it’s all team­work. While I agree with him, I’m a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed. In triathlon cycling (the only kind of cycling com­pe­ti­tion I’ve been in) «draft­ing,» or rid­ing with some­one in front to block the wind, is ille­gal. The strongest rid­ers cross the line first. By Lance’s telling, win­ning bicy­cle races is achieved by burn­ing out all the team­mates in the front of the pelo­ton except Lance, who can keep his legs fresh for the attack.

I can respect the strat­e­gy involved; Lance calls it «chess on wheels.» But it’s not chess. Chess starts out with equal pieces. Cycling sounds more like basketball. 

That’s not to den­i­grate a great cyclist—it’s just that Lance makes win­ning the Tour de France sound like less of a noble odyssey and more like a cor­po­rate merger.

The oth­er aspect that both­ered me, and this is also a small part of an alto­geth­er inspir­ing book, is his atti­tude about los­ing. For all the times he refers to the real com­peti­tor being the road, he also says he’ll quit before he los­es. Maybe I’m tak­ing that out of con­text, but I think the admirable thing would be to take sec­ond and third and twelfth and then place as an age-grouper deep into his nineties. It’s facile for me to say so, though. Maybe I can crit­i­cize after I’ve won even one easy race, but until then, it’s just words in a book.

3 Replies to “Go Lance, Go!”

  1. “There’s a lot about him

    There’s a lot about him that rubs me the wrong way

    Well, there is the thing about divorc­ing his wife to hang out with, of all peo­ple, Sheryl Crow. That los­es one or two respect points for sure. Could­n’t it at least have been some­one as min­i­mal­ly cool as, say, Alanis?

    I keep remem­ber­ing DCR, from Nir­vananet, claim­ing that he could beat Lance. Sure, Lance was­n’t a cham­pi­on yet back in those obscure days, but come on.

  2. Sure, it’s about team­work.
    Sure, it’s about team­work. But, like Michael Jor­dan, he’d end up a win­ner on any team. Arm­strong has put on some mighty impres­sive solo charges in the moun­tains that indi­cate he has bet­ter than aver­age car­dio-pul­mo. If he weren’t the best man on the team, he’d be break­ing air for some­one else.


  3. As an ex-bike rac­er, though
    As an ex-bike rac­er, though nowhere close to Lance’s cal­iber and a woman, I can tell you that team­work is very crit­i­cal in the high­est lev­els of bike rac­ing. At the local and region­al lev­el it is much less of an issue and an indi­vid­ual can com­pete suc­cess­ful­ly. In the big leagues there are a cou­ple rea­sons, besides draft­ing, why a team is more effec­tive. An indi­vid­ual is usu­al­ly unable to cov­er every break, for one thing, and an orga­nized team can restrict the move­ment of a threat­en­ing indi­vid­ual rid­er. Box­ing some­one out is not too hard and rid­ers get tak­en down as well. 

    I think the chess anal­o­gy is an apt one, each chess piece is good at dif­fer­ent things and not all chess pieces need to make it to the end of the game. Like­wise, some rid­ers are climbers and more help on the hills and some are sprint­ers and can win a close fin­ish or make a quick jump away from the pack. 

    I haven’t read this book, prob­a­bly won’t either, but I find Lance’s sto­ry inspir­ing too. I real­ly wish I could feel cer­tain that drugs play no part in his con­tin­ued suc­cess but I can’t quite reach that point regard­ing any pro bike rac­er. In any case, I could see how try­ing to com­pete when he is past his prime might result in temp­ta­tion to cheat, which would be real­ly sad if he has been clean so far.

    Good luck in your racing.