Editor's Note: Dave Shields is the author of a new novel about the Tour de
France called The Race. The prologue of this novel is available
here on the Daily
Peloton, as Dave entered it in our recent Vuelta Writing Contest. Some of our
staff have read this novel and say it's absolutely riveting (no pun intended).
We hope to be able to carry a review of his novel in the near future. Dave is currently looking for a publisher for The Race. If you would like to contact
him, please email him here.
Hangin' With Lance
Article and photos by Dave Shields
What a Dump!
As our bus rumbled through the Austin suburbs, the atmosphere inside was
electric. We Peloton Project Members were being transported to a “secret
location” for a gala western affair. The passengers were thrilled about this
pre-Ride for the Roses event specifically designed to thank those who had raised
$5,000 or more for the Lance Armstrong Foundation
(LAF). I overheard rampant speculation about where we were headed. Lance’s
house? Dead Man’s Hole, the waterfall made famous in Every Second Counts
where Lance likes to leap off forty-five foot cliffs in order to prove to
himself that he’s alive? Or maybe his all-time favorite restaurant?
I was hoping for the waterfall myself, almost looking forward to stripping to
my boxers and taking the leap, (and, no, we hadn’t even caught sight of the open
bar yet). But even sober, how could I have resisted such thoughts? Here I was
surrounded by all this generosity simply because of a good break. My name got
drawn from a barrel of Daily Peloton readers [who contributed to the LAF] and
that made me the lucky soul who was experiencing the event first hand.
I’d felt on the flight to Austin, somewhat unprepared – or maybe a better
word is unworthy. You see, I haven’t survived cancer. I haven’t even really
participated in a battle against the disease. How would I look these people in
the eye who had been through so much and justify crashing their party? What
would I say when the conversation turned to stories of battling for life?
At the hotel check-in desk, the couple ahead in line wore 2002 LAF t-shirts.
Old pros. Good! I’d milk them for some info.
“Excuse me. What’s the best way to get my bike to the start of the ride on
“You load it in our Blazer. We have extra room and it will save you thirty
miles of biking.”
I wondered if they saw the relief on my face. This season I’ve been forced
into an innovative training program. I’ve almost totally substituted wriTING for
riDING. You should see the muscles in my knuckles. I can “control, alt, delete”
like it’s nobody’s business. My TING/DING ratio is so out of whack that only
foolishness compelled me to sign up for the biggest chunk of distance The Ride
for the Roses offers -- 100 miles. An additional 30 to get there and back. No
“Wow, thank you! By the way, how do I get to the convention center from
“You ride with us.”
I spent a lot of time with this couple. They made it easy for me to become
comfortable. I’d soon learn that as wonderful as these people, John and Beth
Eichberger were, they were in no way unusual for Peloton Project members. They
were both Washington D.C. based lobbyists. This was their third year attending
and they were confirmed LAF addicts. John was even initiating plans to bring an
LAF event to Washington, D.C. and raise “at least half a million.” The
Eichbergers simply couldn’t get enough of being around people who savor life,
and that’s why they keep coming back. And they weren’t cancer survivors or
people who’d been particularly affected by the disease, either. They were simply
people who cared. Maybe I wouldn’t be such an outsider in this group after all.
John and Beth Eichberger
My seatmate on the bus was a beautiful woman with a wide smile named Debbie
Cole. She explained to me how joining LAF as a volunteer had rid her of her
anger. This woman angry? Hardly. She was as happy as everyone else I’d met. But
cancer had stolen her mother and she’d only learned the things she really needed
to know after the fact. The lessons that changed her outlook had come courtesy
The bus rounded a corner into a chain-linked area labeled TDS.
“What’s TDS?” people asked.
The locals knew – Texas Disposal System.
“Hmmm. What’s that?”
With a communal expression of concern we wound past trucks unloading their
waste into high tech looking depositories. I’d barely started taking it in when
there was no more garbage to be seen. Instead, we were momentarily delayed by a
herd of gazelle crossing the road, and then a pair of ostrich. We drove past
free ranging zebra, ibex, fallow deer, and many other animals I couldn’t name.
Then we disembarked at a beautiful ranch house. Music, food, a silent auction,
and games of all sorts set the mood. As the western sky turned red I found
myself thinking, “We ought to hire their exterior decorator for the dump in my
Fat Babies Have No Pride
My plate overflowing with mouth-watering Texas fare, I listened as the woman
beside me, Katy Schofield, explained why LAF was important to her. “I’m a
twenty-one year cancer survivor. I defeated it when I was 18.”
My writer’s brain attempted a series of quick mathematical calculations as I
listened. Maybe I carried a digit wrong somewhere. This lady looked 25.
Katy continued, “I wish this organization had existed when I was diagnosed.
They’ve taught me so much.” Around her neck she wore the highest-level
credential – yellow. Her husband, Scott, wore the same color. That meant $40,000
plus raised between the two. Wow!
As Lance took the stage, the audience erupted. He joked around and deflected
attention until even from my seat near the back of the room it seemed as if we
were enjoying an intimate conversation. We laughed hysterically as he let us in
on Lyle Lovett’s coffee drinking abnormalities. He’d learned them while rooming
with the rocker as the two slummed through Baja. Man, I wish they’d thought to
invite me on that trip.
Soon afterward, we were gathered around
Lyle as he
strummed his guitar. The most amazing music crept out the corner of that crooked
mouth of his, and relaxation settled over the throng. I thought to myself, “If
this guy could locate a hairstylist capable of doing anything with that crazy
mane of his, he just might make it big.”
Lyle had gotten wind of the stories of coffee misbehavior Lance had shared.
To get back at his friend, whom Lyle calls, “Hero Boy,” he called Lance on stage
to sing. Lance stumbled through the lyrics:
Cause fat babies have no pride.
Fat babies have no pride.
Fat babies have no pride.
And then the kicker (which Lance seemed nearly incapable of spitting out):
But that’s all right. Who needs pride?
Lance and Lyle singing.
Lance and Lyle
See Lance Scribble
Whenever Lance descends from a stage everyone crowds around him. It’s amazing
to watch how willing he is to put an arm around strangers and smile into their
cameras. Everybody knows him well so it makes sense that they figure, “This is
the face of a friend. Let’s have a photo taken together, Pal.”
It makes less sense to me why they’re always trying to get him to sign
things. I mean, you wouldn’t say to a friend, “I just got this beautiful new
cycling jersey. Will you scribble on it with permanent marker for me?” In fact,
your friendship might be in danger if they did. Lance must be a pretty good
Lance in the crowd
But, even I will admit, that there is something alluring to being
acknowledged by a guy like Lance. One time as he plowed through the crowd that
encased him like a queen bee crossing a hive, I yelled to him. I reminded him
about a minor event and previous contact we’d had. He looked at me and smiled.
“Yeah, I remember.” And then the hordes swept him off.
While waiting for our group photo session with Lance, one guy couldn’t resist
the delay as the photographer repositioned for another shot. He held out a
sharpie and thrust forward his shoulder.
“Will you sign me, Lance?”
As if there were nothing he’d rather do, Lance took the pen and scribbled his
name saying, in the nicest tone possible, “What are you trying to start here,
Nearby people were already riffling through their stuff looking for something
in need of an autograph. This time, Lance was saved by the photographer.
“C’mon people, please look at the camera. Now, on the count of three, say
Everyone’s smiles were big, but I’m guessing Lance’s was biggest. It’s
obvious he wants a sixth Tour de France victory real bad.
Lance in the crowd
During the photo session, I asked more people about their stories. Jerry
Lambert, a 62-year-old New Yorker I’d happened to meet in Vegas two weeks
earlier when I commented on his “I Love Lance” t-shirt, was also at this event.
His pride was obvious as he recalled the moment, back in 1993, that he heard
Lance had won the World Championship.
Kathy Jackoway of Los Angeles told me of the events in her life that had
transformed her from full time mother to adventurer. This year she climbed the
highest peaks in North and South America in order to raise money for LAF and
honor her cancer-surviving sister. Like so many others, she’d been to this event
before and planned to keep coming back.
Maybe it was with relief that all these people heard Lance say, “This is fun,
isn’t it? I’m going to keep holding this event as long as I’m alive.” They sure
did cheer and it only got louder when they announced the Peloton Project totals
for this season - $4.3 million!
Is That the President’s Son?
On Saturday evening LAF hosted a sneak peek at a documentary they helped fund
which will air as a six hour special series on PBS in 2005. The title is, “A
Lion in the House – Stories of Survivorship”. The one-hour excerpt we saw
focused on the experiences of three young patients and their families. The
screening attracted a huge audience. The movie opens as Jen, a lively
six-year-old girl who has lost most of her hair to chemo, explains to her mom
what she’ll be experiencing with her upcoming spinal tap.
“I curl up in a ball, and then I count to three. They won’t stick the needle
in before I say three, will they, Mom?”
She’s obviously been through this before. The next scene is the actual
“One… two…” then Jen bursts into uncontrollable tears. Suddenly, when all
seems lost she squeaks, “Three!”
If your heart doesn’t break in two at her show of bravery, then maybe you
don’t have a heart.
If you can keep a stiff upper lip while watching another scene where the
family of a valiant twenty-year-old boy finally decides to turn off the machines
to conclude a ten-year fight, then you need more flexible lips.
If you’re strong enough to hold back tears when Alex, the funniest damn kid
you’ll ever run across, finds out he’s got to skip summer camp in order to go
through yet another round of chemo, then it’s possible you’ve been exercising
the wrong set of muscles.
After the movie, Lance moderated a panel that included Alex and his mother,
Alex’s oncologist, and the film makers. It was an enlightening discussion, maybe
especially for someone like me who had never contemplated the numerous issues
beyond the disease that those affected by cancer must deal with. Alex, for
instance, had fallen behind in school, and since he lived in poverty, there had
been no resources available to help him catch up. His doctor hit the nail on the
head when he said, “It’s one thing to give people their life back, but another
to give them their quality of life back.”
When an audience member asked Alex what it was like to have a camera follow
him through the most difficult experience of his life, the extremely dark
skinned jokester knocked the audience out of their seats one final time by
answering, “Sometimes it was tough, but there were good parts about it, too.
People would see me strutting around and they’d think, ‘Is that the President’s
son or something?’”
After the movie I spoke with Lee Walker, Chairman of the LAF Board of
Directors. He’s a giant 62 year old, 6’10” [208 cm], and even more imposing in
his omnipresent black broad-brimmed cowboy hat. Lee was obviously shaken by the
film we’d just viewed.
I told him my impressions of the people I’d met so far, and explained how I’d
assumed this organization would be focused on sickness and death. I’d been
surprised that instead it was about savoring life.
“People who are truly alive know how to pay attention. They put their time
where the leverage is greatest,” he said.
In talking about Lance, his love was obvious. I asked him if it was a
“Sort of, at least for me. Lance didn’t have a dad. Sometimes I get to be his
I asked if LAF’s success surprised him.
“I didn’t posses the imagination to see where this organization was going
when we started out. Who could have predicted Lance would have won one, let
alone five tours? And in our society where people put sports stars on a
pedestal, that has translated into many accomplishments. Lance has used his fame
in an honorable way, and this Foundation is the happy result.”
Here’s to Bowlegged Joe
After my interview with Lee, I wandered back to my hotel in a sleep-deprived
state. It had been a whirlwind few days. I hadn’t even found time to assemble my
bike yet. I’d better do it now. It was 10:00 p.m. and my wake up call was set
for 5:30 a.m.
I struggled with installing my pedals, finally deciding that I’d just have to
force them on. What choice was there? One hundred miles without pedals wouldn’t
fly. When I finally got them on I decided I’d better take the bike for a spin
around the carpeted ninth floor Embassy Suites catwalk to check the fit.
But something was wrong. Now I couldn’t get my shoes clipped into the pedals.
Slowly it dawned on me that I’d put them on the wrong side. I had to complete
tomorrow’s ride! That meant I either needed to get my feet remounted pointing in
the opposite direction, or I needed to risk removing the pedals from my freshly
destroyed cranks and hope I could force them into the opposite side. I chose the
Amazingly it worked – sort of. Each pedal performed a double wobble on every
stroke. I’d ride with a hitch in my giddy-up, but at least the pedals seemed
secure. It would have to do.
At the race start, we were greeted by an uninvited extra -- a cold front
complete with the requisite wind. Ninety-degree weather had plummeted nearly
thirty degrees, and the intermittent drizzle chilled the bones. But the 5,000
plus cyclists lined up at the start weren’t about to let an unexpected obstacle
defeat them. I watched thousands of cyclists head off down the road while our
lane was still held at bay behind an impervious strand of yellow tape. The
competitive side in me could hardly take the long delay.
Cyclists at the start - Lance is the speck on top of the finish
tower in the center of the
picture, just above the white helmet.
The start - Lance is up there on the tower
PA announcers telling the crowd to check out the upcoming article
On course, we first faced a crosswind, but it was impossible to find shelter
in the pack because many of the riders had no clue what it meant to hold their
line. I found I had to stay to the upwind side because that was the only place I
could find clear road.
I continued asking people why they were participating. Those with photos of
loved ones pinned to their jersey related memories, and I already understood
much about the commitment of the ones in the LAF green, polka-dot, and yellow
jerseys, but now I also discovered a new crowd.
A man from Kansas told me he travels the country seeking long, organized
rides. This was the best of them, in his opinion.
A local college kid had recently bought a bike from a buddy. He’d quickly
become addicted to the sport and looked forward to his first century ride.
I met firemen lugging enormous backpacks filled with emergency supplies,
couples on tandem bikes pulling kids in trailers, well-oiled teams fighting for
speed, and just about every other kind of cyclist you could dream of. It was a
Despite concern over my weeble wobble pedals I knew that weebles wobble but
they don’t fall down, so I kept passing up the cut-offs to the shorter routes
until finally I was committed to the hundred-mile circuit. I wondered which
never before tested muscles were getting their first workout as the result of my
crazy pedal stroke.
I’d better conserve some energy, so I tucked in behind a broad-shouldered guy
whose large wind-shadow I figured would suit my purpose. I thought it was funny
that he had a little custom blue and yellow California license plate hanging
beneath his seat. It said, “Joe”. There was lots of time to study Joe’s backside
as he unknowingly dragged me through the wind. His muscular legs bowed wide.
Lance ought to try following this guy. He wouldn’t feel a breeze.
Eventually, I decided to scoot past. A rest stop was nearing and visions of
port-a-potties were dancing in my head. Waiting in the long line two guys who
noticed my press credential assumed I must have the inside scoop on the race
organization. They’d read a widely distributed primer on the ride that referred,
over and over, to the dangers of wearing white cycling shorts unless you were an
Italian named Mario.
“I don’t understand the problem,” one said.
I explained the joke. I told them how Mario Cipollini is an Italian sprinter
with rare style. The ladies go crazy over him and he looks good in clothes an
ordinary man would be shot for wearing. I told them how he once held the yellow
jersey in the Tour de France and showed up for the stage wearing matching yellow
shorts. He got fined for it, but I admitted he looked awesome. I thought I’d
done a good job of explaining things, but then the second man, a somber
expression on his face, asked, “And just because of that black shorts are the
only color anybody’s allowed to wear at this event?”
Underway again, I looked for a new wheel to suck, and who should appear but
Bowlegged Joe. I tucked in behind, resisting the urge to interview him as I had
so many others. Joe always kept his eyes forward and his pace rock steady. The
Eventually I lost him in traffic, but we’d reached the turnaround and the
lovely tailwind made his services obsolete. I flew down the road, taking in the
Texas scenery. My favorite sight was three frazzled hound dog mutts behind a
fence. How could they have known they were waking to such a nightmare day?
They’d been bred to bark at bicycles, hadn’t they? And the supply must have
seemed endless, the universe had been turned on its ear. They lay, jowls in the
dirt, but still doing their duty, hoarsely barking. Their heads propped back
each time they yelped by a reflex they weren’t capable of controlling. It was a
sad sight. The funniest damn sad sight I think I’ve ever seen.
The road made an inexplicable turn into the wind and I prayed for Bowlegged
Joe. Suddenly he streaked past. There is a God. That much is now obvious to me.
He wears a green cycling jersey and hails from the Golden State. I stood on my
pedals and sprinted into position. Maybe I ought to interview him. But I evicted
the thought again. Why mess with the stuff of legend?
I don’t know what Joe had eaten at the last rest stop, but I should have
snarfed some too. This time I couldn’t hold his wheel, and I wanted to cry as he
streaked into the distance.
A mile later I slogged past Joe again. There he was, crouched beside the road
repairing a flat. It was the last time I’d see him.
At mile 82 when the inside of my right quad seized, I immediately knew just
which underutilized muscle fibers came into play with my soon to be patented
pedal wobble system. I stretch and massaged and finally got things right, but at
mile 83 the left inside quad from groin to beneath the kneecap did the exact
About the time I fixed it I reached “The Hill”. I’d heard this obstacle
spoken of with trepidation, and I will admit it was several times more imposing
than anything we’d encountered so far, but where I come from it would be a
laughable pimple with an inferiority complex.
Climbing it felt good, and somehow delivered my second wind. From that point
on I streaked down the silky smooth road passing cyclists like they were
mailboxes. I cruised beneath the finish banner feeling as content as I ever
People crossing the finish line
And why shouldn’t I? I’d learned that my lack of exposure to cancer was a
non-issue to the affected participants. From the moment I arrived they were too
busy including me in their joy of living, too intent on expanding their
happiness by widening their circle of friends. You see, these people have a
secret they want to share. Friendship is joy, and it’s one thing you never get,
or give, too much of.
Anyone can reach out to cancer. You don’t need to wait until it knocks on
your door. Once you see the powerful lessons it teaches, you will, like me, want
to get involved. After all, why let these strangers hog all the fun of giving?
Wouldn’t you rather turn them into friends? I would, and that’s why I’ll be
returning to Austin next year.
Cold people at the start
Morning prep - click for larger image
Commemorative bike at Power Bar Health & Sports Expo
The Power Bar Health & Sports Expo