I adopted my first greyhound during the 1995 Tour de France. With Greg Lemond recently retired and a new American star, Lance Armstrong, beginning his career, I was following the race as best one could from Connecticut. Needless to say, I needed a name for a dog not knowing whether my luck of the draw would be a male or a female (bitch is the term of art). Application approved, I drive out to western Connecticut to pick up my new hound. The adoption coordinator brings out the two year old black boy pictured above, Boligee Pistola, called Pistol around the kennel. And Pistol had no idea he had a name. Needless to say, he really needed a name.
A few days before, there was a mishap on the Tour. An Italian rider on Motorola (Lance Armstrong’s team of the day) had gone off the road and over a mountain cliff to his death. With the Tour drawing to a close, young Lance decided to do something to commemorate his fallen comrade. On the last day of road racing, about 30 kilometers out (20 miles) Lance Armstrong attacked from the front of the pack opening a 2 minute lead. Out front by himself, he held his lead until the finish through the final climb up to a ski lodge. Breathless, he comes to a stop, dismounts, seeks out the Italian TV interviewer, and says in rough Italian, “Today, I rode with the strength of two men.” Lance showed serious courage on the final climb and some serious class with this act. I believe this win was the first stage win of his career. Up to this point, he had been learning the art and riding in support of the team stars.
I was so impressed with Lance Armstrong’s gesture that Pistol became Lance. Lance Armstrong, like Michael Phelps, has that unique combination of body structure, physiology, and competitiveness that it takes to be a world champion. Lance Armstrong is driven to excel while his namesake was content to sit in the back during his 1 month racing career. Lance Fourlegs quickly petted out. Lance Armstrong, gaining experience, learned the art of the Tour, and began to rise to the top of his sport to have his career interrupted by testicular cancer.
I can understand the temptation to use performance enhancing techniques in the Tour de France. What those riders do is amazing and if you’ve not tried to race bicycles or completed a 100 mile ride, it is hard to appreciate the challenges they are facing. The peloton races 200 kilometers (120 miles or so) and, tomorrow, they get up and do it again. The Tour is probably the toughest sporting competition on the planet. At the pace they are riding, the athletes deplete the body’s glycogen stores and must efficiently burn fat to complete the race. By the end of the Tour, each rider is ripped, probably 4 to 5 percent body fat even though they are eating 9000 or so calories per day. This is an event that places great demands on the body’s ability to recover to race again tomorrow.
The longest I’ve ridden is 108 miles on my first century ride. I love to ride and to bike trek but I don’t have the physiology for it. The next day, I was a dehydrated zombie walking around in a fog. It took a couple of days to recover. And no, I didn’t get up and do it again tomorrow; I was useless. Having this experience, I can understand the desire to have a technical edge to be ready to race next morning. European cycling started an arms race to make it possible to ride today’s times on today’s courses day after day with a rest day every four stages or so. Lance Armstrong joined that arms race and competed with the same drive and pursuit of excellence that he showed us on the road. I can understand why he did so and that he did does not lessen the courage and class he showed in that first stage win in his learning years.