Lance Armstrong's Week
Strange how the week's papers on different sides of the World could hardly have been more different in the reporting of Lance Armstrong's week.
In Europe Armstrong's interview with the TV station PBS in which he theorised when he planned to retire was the major cycling story, and was covered by all the major European papers with cycing interest. In the USA it was the news that Lance Armstrong was chosen as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year for 2002 that made the headlines. While cricket mad India covered the Armstrong story for very different reasons.
So a clear difference of focus and reporting styles -
So why does Europe concentrate on one story the USA another and Asia another?
We take a look at the weeks stories and try to put them in focus.
United Kingdom’s foremost cycling reporter William Fotheringham summed up the nature of the articles in the European Press with this piece:
Armstrong names the date
Saturday December 14, 2002
The Guardian http://sport.guardian.co.uk/cycling/calendar/0,10478,859735,00.html
The quadruple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has effectively set a limit for his time in the saddle. However, it is not a prospect that will give any encouragement to the opponents he has frustrated in the race since 1999 - he announced to an American television station that he is more than likely to retire at the end of the year after next, which will give him two more attempts at the world's greatest cycle race.
"It will probably be 2004, although if something tells me to go on, I'll go on," Armstrong 31, told the TV station PBS during an interview on Thursday. "Whatever happens, I'll be gone before I'm 35. That's 100% certain. I promise you that."
Before cancer struck him down in 1996, Armstrong had always said that he would be unlikely to continue as a professional cyclist past the age of 30. However that changed following his dramatic return to win the Tour in 1999, and since his third Tour win in 2001 there has been constant speculation over how long he will go on.
During this year's triumphant progress to his fourth consecutive Tour win, Armstrong hinted that 2004 might be his likely retirement date as that is when his team's current contract with the United States Postal Service runs out. However, this is the first time that he has actually named the date.
With next year's centenary Tour on the horizon, Armstrong is now on the point of joining the four greats of the sport, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, all of whom won a record five Tours. Postponing retirement until the end of 2004 will give him a chance to set an absolute record of his own, with six consecutive victories.
In cycling mad Spain these bare facts were added to by Marca who after asking six Spanish Cycling teams managers what they thought of the Vuelta 2003, asked their opinions on Armstrongs announcement. Manolo Sáiz (ONCE-Eroski), Eusebio Unzúe (Ibanesto.com), Vicente Belda (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Julián Gorospe (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Maximino Pérez (Relax-Fuenlabrada) and Zengotitabengoa (Labarca 2-Baqué) were united in their opinion that "Armstrong would retire when he realised he could no longer reach the goals he set himself," all implied that he would win the fifth tour and would definitely go for the sixth record.
The most interesting response came from the most interesting team - Vicente Belda (Kelme-Costa Blanca):
”Obviously every one must retire at some point, you can’t spend all your life racing! In 2004 Armstrong will be 33 years old, and it is fairly normal for riders to start thinking about their family - he can potentially win 6 Tours - it is important for us to remember he can be beaten."
Which sums up nicely why the Armstrong retirement story held the headlines in Europe. Such is his hold on the Tour that teams (with the exception of Belda - who seems prepared to take up the challenge - bravo!) are beginning to look to his retirement as the best chance of victory. Armstrong remains more popular and famous in Europe than he does in his own country, but as his Tour de France victories begin to add up and the sense of his invicibility grows, so Europe begins to despair who can defeat him on the open road, This is not unprecedented; when Riis announced to his Telekom team mates that he could defeat Indurain, “we simply didn’t believe him “ (Udo Bolts). In the USA the retirement story is something a long way away, to parts of the European peloton it is a signpost to when their favorites can enter the worlds greatest race with a chance of victory .
In the States, Armstrong's Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year for 2002 award was the main story. Interestingly not all the coverage was favourable, but certainly Dale Robertsons article in the Houston Chronicle was one of the best written, even if it does fall into being overtly nationalistic at times.
Armstrong refuses to break the cycle
By DALE ROBERTSON
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/sports/1703806
As you read this, there's a 50-50 chance the world's greatest cyclist, its most famous cancer survivor and possibly the most driven athlete who ever broke a sweat is pedaling his bike as hard as he can along some hilly two-lane blacktop in the countryside around Austin.
It's a Monday morning, 10 days before Christmas and 200 days before the 100th anniversary Tour de France embarks from under the Eiffel Tower, but Lance Armstrong already is training. Of course, Lance is never not training, and that's why he has come to own the Tour, arguably the most cruel and unusual competition in sports.
Although it's supposed to be cycling's deep offseason, when the competition kicks back, reflects and roundly imbibes in holiday cheer, Armstrong is routinely out on the road for four or more hours at a time. He rides to live and lives to ride, whether the asphalt under his skinny tires is Wimberly's main drag in mid-December or the Champs Elysées at the end of July.
The more his muscles scream at him to stop the torture, the more obstinate his brain becomes.
What ultimately separates Lance from the pack of wannabes, even more than a body that came from the factory perfectly constructed for the rigors of his chosen avocation, is his insatiable appetite for pain.
He doesn't just want to win. He also wants to suffer. In short, he's a sick puppy. C'est parfait! The Tour de France is a race tailor-made for sick puppies.
Two thousand-plus miles of bicycling around France over 22 days -- with a mere 48 hours of rest thrown into the torturous mix -- requires a high tolerance for agony. But, four times running, the payoff for Armstrong has been ecstasy and that's why Sports Illustrated finally got it right after three straight misses, naming Lance as the Sportsman of the Year for 2002.
To tell him, they had to call his cell phone. He was out on the bike.
A problem looms, though. Shouldn't SI again anoint him in 2003, when he becomes the second racer to win five consecutive Tours? And what will the magazine do in 2004, when he rolls to his historically unprecedented sixth yellow jersey? There never has been a Sportsman of the Year repeat, much less a three-peat.
There never has been a Lance, either, though.
An American knocking off six of these babies in a row would be tantamount to Yao Ming being acknowledged as the finest basketball player of all time when he's done with his Rockets career. Or try to imagine a Pole becoming the perennial world champion bull rider, or a Turk dominating Olympic figure skating.
Because the Tour is the most sacred of bicycle races, especially to its haughty French hosts, who last produced a champion in 1985, the degree to which Armstrong has come to dominate is aberrant to the point of absurdity -- and a huge source of European irritation.
But now only the Belgian Eddy Merckx, France's Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and the Spaniard Miguel Indurain, each with five victories, are out there ahead of Lance in the pantheon of Tour legends. And just Indurain has gone 5-for-5 since Henri Desgrange dreamed up the idea for the race in 1903 to promote a motoring magazine he had recently founded.
Desgrange's scheme was to have men ride bicycles where the new-fangled automobiles could then be driven by adventuresome tourists. But outside the six major cities the first race visited -- Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes will also be celebrated stops on the 90th Tour -- the roads were often rutted dirt paths built for horse-drawn wagons. At the outset, the high cols of the Alps and the Pyrenees weren't part of the le grande boucle because the cyclists feared, among myriad dangers, the bears roaming the wild, desolate reaches.
Next summer's Tour will, to be sure, traverse both ranges, breaching 15 major passes over seven mountain stages, two of which also finish with killer uphill climbs -- including the notorious Alpe d'Huez and its 21 switchbacks. Those brutal days of broiling sun and/or numbing cold always define the Tour and ultimately identify the champion. It's certain to be Armstrong again unless injury, illness or mechanical breakdowns befall him for the first time since he resumed competing after beating a deadly cancer into submission.
If it's better to be lucky than good, it's best to be both and that Lance has been. He understands this, too, and that's why he works so hard, leaving as little to chance as possible. He'll move from Austin to his European base of operations in Spain's Pyrenean foothills in February, and by the time the Tour enters the mountains in July, he'll have ridden every mile of the high roads at least twice.
His initial tests will be done in March, too, when the temperatures barely will reach freezing and driving snow can be a frequent irritation. The tiny handful of men who might be capable of challenging Armstrong's superiority come July will have barely begun to contemplate the route, much less plot its every pothole.
When the centennial route was announced in October, Lance had but one complaint: He lamented the exclusion of what might be France's meanest cycle-able mountain -- Ventoux, the Giant of Provence. So he made the promoters promise to put it in the mix in 2004.
And they said they would, not wanting to cheat him out of a moment's suffering as he goes after No. 6.
This is not to say that the USA press was united in joy at the decision to give Armstrong the award. While coverage was generally small and usually positive, such as Kathleen Nelso in the St Louis Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist: “Lance Armstrong: Sports Illustrated is, like, four years late in naming him Sportsman of the Year. He deserved the honor in 1999, when he became the first cancer survivor to win the Tour de France. The last three years have been icing on the cake, a reiteration that he is the best bike rider in the world. The Tour is the toughest test on the planet, akin to running 21 consecutive marathons, some at altitudes above 7,000 feet. By extension, Armstrong is the planet's best endurance athlete” - there was equally the negative:
John Kelso of the Atlanta Journal, as usual, chose the announcement to make his normal weary “humour” at cyclists in general and Europe in particular - “What do you call people from Belgium? The Belch?” Aside from the fact it is unusual for a newspaper to employ a thirteen year old as a staff writer, the article is probably unique in that virtually every statement he made on cycling was wrong. Interestingly, considering the US perception is that Armstrong receives bad press in Europe and in particular France (a quite erroneous suggestion), it was only the US Press themselves who took the opportunity of the award to criticise Armstrong - The Herald Tribune news services reported this item:
“Keith Olbermann of ABC Radio wasn't enthralled by the selection of Lance Armstrong as Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, saying: "Two years ago when Armstrong crossed picket lines to make a TV commercial, he rationalized it by saying he was a cancer survivor who had to look out for his family -- completely ignoring the fact that hundreds of people who make a few thousand dollars a year making commercials, certainly some of them had cancer in their families and none of them considered themselves too special to dishonor the strike by a union which Armstrong had joined."
Meanwhile in Cricket mad India AVINASH SINGH writes an inspired piece about two Lances - the first being Lance Armstrong and his success as a rider, the second Lance Klussener and his poor patch in cricket - we will have a look at the Armstrong part of the article - on of the best written pieces this week.
Hits And Misses
A tale of two Lances: Armstrong, who has found himself, and Klusener, who is lost; Neil McKenzie rides his luck.
That Lance Armstrong is a cyclist is an understatement of what he means to those who know his story. That Armstrong is a four-time winner of the Tour de France -- among the toughest sporting challenges -- and the world’s best long-distance cyclist is an understatement of what he’s achieved in his 32 years in the world.
Armstrong is a cancer survivor who’s been to hell and back. That, for him, is bigger than everything else he has done in his life. And that’s why Sports Illustrated -- the most revered sports magazine in the US -- named him the Sportsperson of the Year for 2002. It’s a fitting tribute to a phenomenal athlete and human being, but it comes three years late.
Armstrong’s story has been told many times over, reaching a fever pitch every July during the Tour de France. Yet, it loses none of its warmth, magic and romance, and will be told for generations to come.
In October 1996, this 25-year-old native of Austin, Texas, was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs and brain. He lost weight, his hair, his strength and stamina. Cruel, for at that time he was the best cyclist in the US, and was just about beginning his charge on the world stage. Armstrong was given a 20 per cent chance of surviving, for which he would require surgery and bouts of chemotherapy.
At such moments, the instinct says and thinks survival. Armstrong was thinking all that, and more: to get back to competitive cycling. After the surgery removed the tumour in his brain, he was presented with two drug options for chemotherapy: one that wouldn’t have side-effects but would marginally drain his lung capacity (a vital ally for any athlete, especially cyclists), and another that would have side effects but wouldn’t affect his lung capacity. Cyclists pride and survive on their marathon lung capacity, which helps them peddle ceaselessly. Armstrong choose short-term discomfort for long-term gain.
The surgery and chemo worked. A year later, Armstrong was cured, and he returned to full-time riding (even during his treatment period, he was taking 30-mile rides in Austin). The cancer proved to be a blessing in disguise. It had left him with a leaner frame (a great asset for cyclists) and a wiser mind. In June 1999, he won the Tour de France.
The biggest prize in world cycling, the Tour is a three-week, 20-stage, 2,000-miles race across France (with a brief touch into Belgium). Riders breeze past pleasant countryside, sprint in a handful of towns and, in what is the ultimate test of human strength and limits of endurance, grunt and grimace through mountains in the Pyrenees.
It’s usually in the mountains that the Tour is decided. And when it comes to climbing mountains, both literally on a bike and metaphorically in life, they don’t come much better than Armstrong. He’s called the ‘King of the Mountains’. Till the mountains begin, Armstrong rides as part of the peloton (the term given to the pack of riders chasing the leaders), sheltered by his eight team-mates from the US Postal Service.
They take turns to ride ahead of him, thereby protecting him from the crosswinds and requiring him to expend less energy. And when the mountains come, they make a charge, Armstrong in tow. It’s in the mountains that Armstrong stamps his authority on the Tour, and breaks away. Said French racer Stephane Heulot after the 2000 tour: "When I saw Armstrong overtake me, I got the impression I was watching someone descending a hill I was trying to scale."
Armstrong won in 2000 and 2001 as well. His dominance was so overriding that in 2002 the organisers scheduled the mountain stages towards the end of the Tour, so as to keep the race competitive. No problem, said Armstrong. He bided his time, stayed patient and in touch with the leaders, and made his move in the mountains. He’s won the Tour four times, in succession, and looks set to better the all-time record of five wins next year -- fittingly during its centenary.
Armstrong takes great pride in what he’s achieved. He is a beacon of hope, an example of triumph over adversity. He never forgets where he has been. And, in his graceful and humble way, he puts sport in perspective. Aptly, he titled his autobiography, ‘It’s Not About the Bike’. Says Armstrong: "If I never had cancer, I never would have won the Tour de France. I'm convinced of that. I wouldn't want to do it all over again, but I wouldn't change a thing."
So Lance Armstrong, headline news worldwide but for quite different reasons in different continents - last word goes to Rick Reilly - for his own unique view of the Armstrong weeks reporting:
SPORTS FIGURES SOUND OFF ON VARIOUS TOPICS
By Charles Polansky
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Sports Illustrated columnist
In March, Rick Reilly will have worked for Sports Illustrated for 18 years. The past five, he's spent writing a weekly column, "Life of Reilly," which can be found on the last page of each issue.
Many readers immediately skip to the last page and read Reilly's humorous, uplifting, contentious, bittersweet, and always riveting, column.
Reilly has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year seven times. He has written for newspapers and SI. He has written books and screenplays.
This week, Reilly wrote SI's cover story on Texas cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won his fourth consecutive Tour de France in July. Next summer, Armstrong goes for a record-tying fifth consecutive victory in cycling's Super Bowl.
Armstrong's remarkable comeback from testicular cancer to winning the biggest bicycle race in the world led to his selection as SI's Sportsman of the Year.
Before sitting down to write the Sportsman of the Year cover story, Reilly spent two weeks in Austin with Armstrong.
You had met Lance Armstrong before. Do you have any new impressions of him after writing this story?
I was happy to live through it. I swear he's got ADD. He just moves, moves, moves. He's in his wife's Mercedes, and he's going 110 mph. Then, we get in his private jet, and that wasn't fast enough for him. He's just a speed freak.
What did you and Lance do in Austin?
Lance said, "You've got to get on a bike." I'd never been on one with toe clips where your feet are clamped in there. He gets me on this fast bike, and he's teaching me. He pushes me off like a dad pushing his 6-year-old son. I said, "What do I do?" And he said, "Just keep pedaling." How do you get off? Just keep pedaling. Of course, that's his motto for life: He just keeps pedaling.
What makes Lance such a dominant rider?
I talked to this [University of Texas] professor who said he can go one hour at 32 mph on the stationary bike. One hour, nonstop at 32 mph. The average fit college student that they get in there, like aerobics instructors, can go 45 seconds at that speed.
Where does Lance's remarkable comeback from cancer rank among things you've seen in your lifetime?
Greatest comeback ever. Greatest comeback I've ever seen in sports history. He had 14 tumors. He had the worst kind of cancer, a 60 percent chance of dying. He was going to be sterile for the rest of his life, and he was never going to ride again. He's won four Tour de France's in a row. He could become the first to win six [in a row]. I asked him: "What are you going to do? What are you going to do then?" He said, "Space." He wants to go up in space.
Space, huh? Is he serious?
Why wouldn't you take that guy up in space? Take a stationary bike up there and have him ride it. Besides, who's got a better name for space than he does?