Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lance and Me

They say Lance is finished. Done. Kaput. Haters are writing snide diatribes on forums attacking with the best cuts their armchairs can muster while the defenders clinging to his scrotum hair are beating off the steady volley of barbs with ever shorter swords. I don't particularly identify with either side, though their online battles are sometimes mildly amusing and curiously unhinged.

I first heard of Lance as some upstart trigeek kid throwing his cards in with the big boys of the EuroPro scene back in 1992. He was flying the colors of Motorola then and all I thought of was Alexi Grewal and how he had his date with reality in a certain race called Paris Roubaix (the thumb pointing him to the back of the pack by an unknown hard man is still etched in memory). This Lawrence guy would surely suffer a similar fate.

I caught a glimpse of Big Tex at the '93 Tour DuPont while I was waiting for the hotshots to happen by so I could bother them for another fanboy photo-op. He was digging around the back of the team car looking for water bottles and food. He had an undeniable confidence about him bordering on arrogance. I remember staring for awhile and thinking "Goddamn...he's not even a year older than me..." Just then, Sean Yates and Steve Bauer rolled up and I forgot about Lance and ogled the dudes I saw on the World Cycling Productions videotapes.

Lance won the World Championships five months later (and my photo with Yates and Bauer with the "Stealth" bike disappeared with the BS photobook when the business was sold a few years after I left). The rest is history. Lance went on to win the Dauphine a few times, a couple Tours de Georgia, and a second in the Amstel Gold. If memory serves, I believe he won a few Tours de France as well...

Regardless, I can't find it in me to blindly defend nor gloat about his latest (lack of) exploits. I was never a big fan of the great Armstrong. Not a hater, but a doubter. I rooted for Ullrich and Basso and Beloki and Kloden, and of course Pantani, but he was never really a contender after "the bust". Time and again Lance proved stronger than I perceived and hoped. Certainly there are claims of him and the juice, but what those folks fail to mention is that, if true, he beat out the other 198 (give or take) juicers fair and square.

And now, after the now famous stage 8 collapse, I find myself with no other words to describe my reaction other than pity. Pity, because I empathize with the tired sack of bones and meat that limped over the finish line like an aging alpha lion with a bum leg and cataracts. Like LA, at 38, I'm keenly aware of where my body is every morning. The memories of what it used to do are still fresh in the ol' memory banks. I'm well aware that I can't quite do what I used to do just a few years ago. It takes longer to warm up. The top end isn't there. Neither is the snap and quickness. The recovery time needed between efforts has lengthened and I don't have the "second gear" anymore. Shit, I can barely suffer a few minutes without wanting to back off and piano the rest of the way.

I was warned about this a long time ago, and now offer the same sage proclamations to the young guns I might happen to roll with on occasion. They said "You're going to wake up one day and, all of a sudden, your body will betray you. It won't do what you tell it to." Well, that day has come and gone and I think Lance's has too. Though, even now, in his decrepit state, he could likely win a stage or finish in the top twenty-five in cycling's crown jewel. But, as far as the intricate tapestry of magic and punishment he dealt so masterfully for those seven years, it ain't gonna happen again. It's gone. The music has died. Maybe he shouldn't have stopped. I think he might have won 9. But, what do I know? My brain isn't what it used to be either.