Lance Armstrong: Cancer Survivor, family man, 4 time Tour de France Champion - there are so many things one could say about Armstrong; but as Phil Liggett put it, in his his own inimitable way during this year's live coverage on OLN, "superlatives simply cannot describe the way this man rides a bike."
Lance told the international media and his fans about it in his own words via live webcast from Paris this morning. Here's what he had to say:
How do you feel today after your three week ordeal?
Mentally exhausted. Physically, not so bad, actually. Like I've said many times, I have a great team that kept me always out of trouble; so, not totally spent physically.
We had a team celebration last night, and ended up getting home at 3:30, and Isabel woke up at 5:30, and so, that hurt me more than anything... being a father. Well, it didn't HURT, but you know... 2 hours sleep after a three week Tour de France is... not recommended.
People say this is the hardest sporting event in the world, but it was the easiest to predict. If you can make a three week, 2000 mile event look easy to win, you did it in the past three weeks!
It's important to remember that cycling is a team sport. You need protection, you need support, you need company, and I had that the whole time. If it was in the flats in the wind, if it was in the mountains, I always had teammates with me. That security, or security blanket makes a big difference.
People talk about the team, and some people who really know what they're talking about talk about the best team in the history of cycling. I was lucky.
What made the team so good?
For example, on a tough mountain stage, when you've done two of the three cols and you've still got 8 or 9 guys left with you out of the 50 or 60 left in the peloton... That's a big percentage of the guys, and some of them certainly would never have made it over those big mountains. I had guys who were in good shape, were motivated, and that wanted to help... We were surprised with a lot of people.
How would you put a label on your 4th victory at the Tour de France?
They're all special... That's been one of the most asked questions. They all feel different, and they all feel awesome. They feel great, you always feel glad to finish. But, the first one was the comeback, the second was the confirmation, last was, I don't know what we said, a really good time? And this was the year of the team... a stress-free Tour de France.
Many people don't understand the team nature of the sport, and your team is so international. How do you build that bond?
When you have three Americans out of the 9, a Russian, a Czechoslovakian, two Spanish, a Colombian, and a Luxembourger... Halfway through the tour, one of our young American kids, Floyd Landis decides he wants to bust out his ZZ Top greatest hits on the bus, which... I know who ZZ Top is; I'm from Texas and ZZ Top is a Texas band... But, for the Spanish guys, when ZZ Top is crankin'... The Spanish guys are going 'They're is crazy!' But all of those things were good for morale. It was a joke and it really lowered the stress.
We know we were here to win the biggest bike race in the world, but we can still have a laugh, we can still have a good time; we're all friends, and let's go out there and really kill ourselves for each other. Little moments like that... it's one of the things I'll always remember from this tour: not the crash on stage 11, not the time trial I didn't win... I'll remember ZZ Top in the bus. It's odd.
You talk about the mental strain and the pressure of defending the jersey. Why is it so tough mentally?
Mentally it's difficult... But, when you wear the yellow jersey, that's a special jersey. People have talked about it for decades, and for the entire history of the event. You ride different, you feel different - it's almost like a special power. Nobody wants to have a bad day in the yellow jersey, nobody wants to get dropped in the yellow jersey. Those are little motivations that help. The pressure of it all is fortunately something that we got used to over the past 4 years. I mean, the team has been in yellow close to 50 days, so it's not a new experience. The guys know what to do.
Each victory has been different, but the common thread has been that you've applied pressure in the first mountain stage. You talk about the painstaking preparation, but the decisions are made on the road...
Well, This year was unlike other years. It wasn't the first day, I mean we took the jersey, but it was the second mountain stage really. There was never a big acceleration, there wasn't a big time gap; there was never more than a minute gain... it was tough.
It's something that you have to totally prepare for, but then be willing to accept, and to ad lib at any time. That's what we did the second day in the Pyrenees, that's what we did on Mont Ventoux... Look, it's bike racing! You can't script it. You've got 200 miles of open road, you've got 200 guys, you've got wind, you've got flat tires, you've got breakaways... you've got a lot of factors that you just have to look at the situation and think about it, make the right guess and go.
Your face doesn't betray the suffering of it. What is it like on the third HC climb of the day? Are you aware of the pain or is it just a dot in your mind that you aim for?
It depends what shape you're in...
When someone runs alongside and you keep looking ahead...
Yeah. I look for the bad guys! (laughs) The good guys, those are easy to have beside you, but you kind of want to watch out for the nuts.
That's part of your thinking?
Well, cycling is a sport of the open road, so if you see a guy, and he looks a little possessed, getting ready to jump out on the road, you want to to go the other way!
But, the third climb... It depends on the kind of shape you're in. There are guys who are 40 minutes down who are dying to finish that climb, and there are guys in the front who are either climbers, or are well-prepared or are having a great day, and then it's not too bad. It's difficult, but it's certainly easier than for the people in the back.
When all the physical and mental strain are over, and you've won and you're standing on that podium in the Champs Elysees, what is that feeling like?
Paris, for people who haven't been here, is really in my opinion, a special place. Like much of Europe, it's an old place, with a lot of history, a lot of character and I can imagine an Olympic marathon running into the stadium with 30 seconds on the nearest guy, and that first rush of applause and cheers...
When you first come onto the Champs Elysees, with the cobblestones, and a little uphill to the arch, you've got your friends and your family in the stands, you've got your whole team there, and you're in yellow... I don't get goose bumps very often, but it is just... Every year it never changes, it's the same feeling.
For a first year person, like Floyd this year, to ride in with a team in yellow - it's an emotional moment. Then, you do ten laps, so the emotion goes away pretty quickly, but it's really special.
Cancer survivorship was the big story the first time you won, but more and more, it's about the bike now. Does that bother you?
In 99 I talked a lot about that. I answered a lot of questions about that, and that was the story. I said at the time that I had a feeling that people will forget about this... You sports writers and cycling writers will forget about it; and if it ever happens again, it won't be a comeback, it won't be about survivorship, it will just be a victory in the Tour de France, and I said at the time that that's disappointing for me. I understand, but I wish it was still the main line... But I understand that things evolve and the story changes, and they want to cover other aspects, but very rarely do they ask me about that now. If did a press conference with 500 journalists...
And you wish they would?
Well, I don't know that I wish that, but it's a very big part of it for me. I'm certainly open to talk about it. I always have been and I always will be, but now they want to talk about the weight of the bike or the attack that somebody launched or the cross winds... it's not about an illness anymore to them.
Were you disappointed at not being able to get Roberto Heras a stage win?
I think we were all disappointed, especially Robert, Johan and myself. Roberto is a very quiet guy, very unassuming, but the ultimate team player. He won the Tour of Spain, and he's a big, big rider. He comes to the Tour de France and he gives everything for this team, and for me to win the tour. We will get him a stage win. I don't know when... The first day in the Pyrenees, he was a true rockstar. Very few times in the past 4 years have I ever asked someone to slow down, but I was begging him to slow down on La Mongie.
He's just doing his job on the tour...
Well, I was behind him saying 'Tranquilo! Tranquilo!' and Johan was in the car saying 'Venga! Venga! Venga!' and I was saying 'Johan! NO! shut up! He's got to slow down!'
What did Johan Brunyeel say to you last night, when the mission was accomplished?
For the first time in the last four years, we had a private get together before the official team celebration with family and sponsors, and supporters of the team, and we all came over to my hotel - just the team members and their wives or girlfriends and Johan; and it was really a special time, because we've never had that. Usually we all show up at a party with 400 people and we don't get to see each other and we don't get to tell each other 'good job,' or Johan doesn't get to talk, so...
Johan is a man who doesn't talk a lot, but he truly believes, and he's knows about cycling, has been around cycling a lot, raced a lot of races, and he feels like this is one of the strongest teams in history, and for someone like that to say that, who has experience and history, it says a lot.
To be continued...