Lance Armstrong Focuses on
Victory by George Vescey -
But Has Eye on History in Tour De France
Lance Armstrong is upset about Funny
He does not normally follow horse racing,
but he became a big fan of Funny Cide after spurious charges were raised
against its jockey, Jose Santos, after the Kentucky Derby.
"I've been through some stuff like that
myself," Armstrong said, referring to the allegations in France that he must
have used drugs to win his first Tour de France after his desperate battle with
From afar, Armstrong bonded with Funny Cide,
who finished third in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Here, deep in the Alps,
or anywhere on the cycling circuit, Armstrong is wired. He keeps up. Funny Cide
did not win the Triple Crown of American horse racing.
Now Armstrong is facing his own version of
history. He will begin the Tour de France in less than four weeks, trying to
win his fifth consecutive title, which only Miguel Indurain has done.
Armstrong is taking on 100 years of history
of the Tour de France, but he cannot begin the day by staring up at some
vicious mountain and thinking of the four legendary cyclists who won the Tour
de France five times each. The athlete focuses on the event itself, Armstrong
"For me," he said, "it's the 2003 Tour de
He was visiting this modest and beautiful
resort town for the brief 5.1-kilometer (3.1-mile) prologue of the Dauphine
Libere, an eight-day race through the Alps, which cycling teams use as spring
training for the main event.
Armstrong is just easing into his Tour
schedule and did not even think of doing well as he warmed up, but then his
considerable life force kicked in and he finished a surprising third.
[Note: Three days later, Armstrong won
the stage 3 time trial of the Dauphine Libere, to move into first on the
general classification. As of this report, he was still the race leader after
A short effort like isn't easy, Armstrong
said in a private interview after a late dinner, sitting around a charming
little hotel facing the craggy mountains. He said he was tired, but he chatted
easily, and intelligently, on a variety of subjects.
He has put on a lot of miles, not even
counting the cancer and the chemotherapy and the rebuilding of his ravaged
body. Now he is 31 years old.
"I definitely feel it," he said, "starting
with my feet hitting the ground in the morning. I don't get to the coffee pot
quite as fast as I used to. I feel it in the lower back when my kids jump on
His training machines indicate that he still
pedals with the same fury he had five or 10 years ago, but he may depend more
on wisdom now.
"There may come a day when I run into a
young guy with acceleration and strength, and he's probably going to take it,"
said Armstrong, who is not given to morbidity.
Armstrong is going through the same process
that superstars like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Martina Navratilova and now
Roger Clemens have done as they chased the next milestone. Cycling seems even
more excruciatingly personal than all the other sports, what with people
standing inches away and witnessing a man gritting his way up the mountain.
He is chasing Indurain of Spain, Eddy Merckx
of Belgium and two Frenchmen, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, who all won
it five times. Somewhat unbelievably, no Frenchman has won the Tour since
Hinault in 1985.
In this year of years, Armstrong rides for a
team sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, which deploys two red-white-and-blue
support vans all over France, the profound heart of cycling. Only a few months
ago, these two nations begged to differ about the conflict in Iraq. On Sunday
at a news conference, a journalist asked Armstrong if he was afraid of riding
around France, given the political climate.
"This was much more of a concern six or
eight weeks ago, before and during the conflict," Armstrong said with an
expressive smile and a shrug. "I haven't thought that much about it since, and
I haven't heard much about Bush or the war or the conflict.
"But the Tour has 1 million people a day,"
he said. "It only takes one. I have to keep that in mind, but I always try not
to mix cycling and politics, and I hope people along the way feel the
Armstrong added that since coming to train
here in May, he had found people to be kind and friendly, stopping their cars
and cheering when they discovered him training on their hillsides.
"When you're riding in a race, you can hear
things and you can see faces," he said. "Today, I did not hear anything bad.
Not one thing. And I would hear it."
He does notice things, including recent
comments by an Italian racer, Gilberto Simoni, that Armstrong does not compete
"It's always nice to have some extra
motivation," Armstrong said Sunday. "There's the TV and the Internet. I'm
He knows that millions of people noticed
last winter when he and his wife, Kristin, announced their separation, followed
by a reconciliation. A team official said Kristin Armstrong and their three
children were at the family's second home in Gerona, Spain.
When asked if he was anxious about winning
on this anniversary, he said, "I'm sure that one day when I'm speaking to my
grandchildren, if I am fortunate enough to win this, I won't say, 'I won the
100th Tour de France.'"
Lance Armstrong is starting to think about
grandchildren. That form of history seems to matter a great deal to him.