August 30, 2010

Lance Armstrong-IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE(5)

continued to make steady progress on the bike through the summer, and in August Kik and I
felt secure enough about my future as a rider to buy a house in Nice. While Kik employed her
stumbling French to handle the bankers and buy furniture and move us into the new home, I
went off with the team for the three-week Vuelta a Es-pana (Tour of Spain), one of the most
strenuous races on the face of the earth. There are three grand tours in cycling, of Italy, Spain,
and France.
On October 1, 1998, nearly two years to the day after I was diagnosed, I completed the Vuelta. I
finished fourth, and it was as important an achievement as any race I'd ever won. I rode 2,348
miles over 23 days, and missed making the awards podium by only six seconds. The winner,
Abraham Olano of Spain, had ridden just 2 minutes and 18 seconds faster than I had. What's
more, I nearly won the toughest mountain stage of the race, in gale-force winds and freezing
temperatures. The race was so tough that almost half the field retired before the finish. But I
didn't quit.

Lance Armstrong-IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE(4)

I confided that I was worried about my sponsor, Cofidis, and explained the difficulty I was
having with them. I told her I felt pressured. "I need to stay in shape, I need to stay in shape," I
said over and over again.
"Lance, listen to your body," she said gently. "I know your mind wants to run away. I know it's
saying to you, 'Hey, let's go ride.' But listen to your body. Let it rest."
I described my bike, the elegant high performance of the ultralight tubing and aerodynamic
wheels. I told her how much each piece cost, and weighed, and what its purpose was. I
explained how a bike could be broken down so I could practically carry it in my pocket, and that
I knew every part and bit of it so intimately that I could adjust it in a matter of moments.
I explained that a bike has to fit your body, and that at times I felt melded to it. The lighter the
frame, the more responsive it is, and my racing bike weighed just 18 pounds. Wheels exert
centrifugal force on the bike itself, I told her. The more centrifugal force, the more momentum.
It was the essential building block of speed. "There are 32 spokes in a wheel," I said.
Quick-release levers allow you to pop the wheel out and change it quickly, and my crew could
fix a flat tire in less than 10 seconds.

Lance Armstrong-IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE(3)

medical building for my first chemotherapy treatment. I was taken aback by how informal it
was: a simple waiting room with some recliners and La-Z-Boys and assorted chairs, a coffee
table, and a TV. It looked like somebody's living room full of guests. It might have been a party,
except for the giveaway–everybody was attached to his or her very own IV drip.
Dr. Youman explained that the standard treatment protocol for tes-ticular cancer was called
BEP, a cocktail of three different drugs, bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin, and they were so
toxic that the nurses wore radioactive protection when handling them. The most important
ingredient of the three was cisplatin, which is actually platinum, and its use against testicular
cancer had been pioneered by a man named Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, who practiced at the Indiana
University medical center in Indianapolis. Prior to Einhorn s discovery, testicular cancer was
almost always fatal–25 years earlier it had killed a Chicago Bears football star named Brian
Piccolo, among many others. But the first man who Einhorn had treated with platinum, an
Indianapolis schoolteacher, was still alive.

Lance Armstrong-IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE(2)

My brand-new Raleigh was top-of-the-line and beautiful, but I owned it only a short time before
I wrecked it and almost got myself killed. It happened one afternoon when I was running
stoplights. I was spinning through them one after the other, trying to beat the timers. I got five
of them. Then I came to a giant intersection of two six-lanes, and the light turned yellow.
I kept going anyway–which I did all the time. Still do.
I got across three lanes before the light turned red. As I raced across the fourth lane, I saw a lady
in a Ford Bronco out of the corner of my eye. She didn't see me. She accelerated–and smashed
right into me.
I went flying, headfirst across the intersection. No helmet. Landed on my head, and just kind of
rolled to a stop at the curb.

Lance Armstrong-IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE(2)

My brand-new Raleigh was top-of-the-line and beautiful, but I owned it only a short time before
I wrecked it and almost got myself killed. It happened one afternoon when I was running
stoplights. I was spinning through them one after the other, trying to beat the timers. I got five
of them. Then I came to a giant intersection of two six-lanes, and the light turned yellow.
I kept going anyway–which I did all the time. Still do.
I got across three lanes before the light turned red. As I raced across the fourth lane, I saw a lady
in a Ford Bronco out of the corner of my eye. She didn't see me. She accelerated–and smashed
right into me.
I went flying, headfirst across the intersection. No helmet. Landed on my head, and just kind of
rolled to a stop at the curb.
I was alone. I had no ID, nothing on me. I tried to get up. But then there were people crowding
around me, and somebody said, "No, no, don't move!" I lay back down and waited for the
ambulance while the lady who'd hit me had hysterics. The ambulance arrived and took me to the
hospital, where I was conscious enough to recite my phone number, and the hospital people
called my mother, who got pretty hysterical, too.
I had a concussion, and I took a bunch of stitches in my head, and a few more in my foot, which
was gashed wide open. The car had broadsided me, so my knee was sprained and torn up, and it
had to be put in a heavy brace. As for the bike, it was completely mangled.
I explained to the doctor who treated me that I was in training for a triathlon to be held six days
later at Lake Dallas in Louisville. The doctor said, "Absolutely no way. You can't do anything
for three weeks. Don't run, don't walk."
I left the hospital a day later, limping and sore and thinking I was out of action. But after a
couple of days of sitting around, I got bored. I went out to play golf at a little local course, even
though I still had the leg brace on. It felt good to be out and be moving around. I took the leg
brace off. I thought, Well, this isn't so bad.
By the fourth day, I didn't see what the big deal was. I felt pretty good. I signed up for the
triathlon, and that night I told my mother, "I'm doing that thing. I'm racing."
She just said, "Okay. Great."
I called a friend and said, "I gotta borrow your bike." Then I went into my bathroom and cut the
stitches out of my foot. I was already good with the nail clippers. I left the ones in my head,
since I'd be wearing a swim cap. Then I cut holes in my running shoe and my bike shoe so the
gash in my foot wouldn't rub.
Early the next morning, I was at the starting line with the rest of the competitors. I was first out
of the water. I was first off the bike. I got caught by a couple of guys on the 10K run, and took
third. The next day, there was a big article in the paper about how I'd been hit by a car and still
finished third. A week later, my mom and I got a letter from the doctor. "I can't believe it," he
NOTHING SEEMED TO SLOW ME DOWN. I HAVE A LOVE of acceleration in any form,
and as a teenager I developed a fascination with high-performance cars. The first thing I did
with the prize money from my triathlon career was buy a little used red Fiat, which I would race
around Piano–without a driver's license.
One afternoon when I was in llth grade, I pulled off a serious piece of driving that my old friends
still marvel at. I was cruising down a two-lane road with some classmates when we approached
two cars moving slowly.
Impatiently, I hit the gas.
I drove my little Fiat right between the two cars. I shot the gap, and you could have stuck your
finger out of the window and into the open mouths of the other drivers.
I took the car out at night, which was illegal unless an adult was with me. One Christmas
season, I got a part-time job working at Toys ".H" Us, helping carry stuff out to customers' cars.
Steve Lewis got a job at Target, and we both had night shifts, so our parents let us take the cars
to work. Bad decision. Steve and I would drag-race home, doing 80 or 90 through the streets.
Steve had a Pontiac Trans Am, and I upgraded to a Camaro IROC Z28, a monster of a car. I
was in a cheesy disco phase, and I wanted that car more than anything. Jim Hoyt helped me buy
it by signing the loan, and I made all the monthly payments and carried the insurance. It was a
fast, fast car, and some nights, we'd go down to Forest Lane, which was a drag-strip area, and
get it up to 115 or 120 mph, down a 45-mph road.
I had two sets of friends, a circle of popular high-school kids who I would carouse with, and
then my athlete friends, the bike racers and runners and triathletes, some of them grown men.
There was social pressure at Piano East, but my mother and I couldn't begin to keep up with the
Joneses, so we didn't even try. While other kids drove hot cars that their parents had given
them, I drove the one I had bought with my own money.
Still, I felt shunned at times. I was the guy who did weird sports and who didn't wear the right
labels. Some of my more social friends would say things like, "If I were you, I'd be embarrassed
to wear those Lycra shorts." I shrugged. There was an unwritten dress code; the socially
acceptable people all wore uniforms with Polo labels on them. They might not have known it,
but that's what they were: uniforms. Same pants, same boots, same belts, same wallets, same
caps. It was total conformity, and everything I was against.
entered an important time trial in Moriarty, New Mexico, a big race for young riders, on a course
where it was easy to ride a fast time. It was a flat 12 miles with very little wind, along a stretch
of highway. A lot of big trucks passed through, and they would belt you with a hot blast of air
that pushed you along. Young riders went there to set records and get noticed.
It was September but still hot when we left Texas, so I packed light. On the morning of my ride
I got up at 6 and headed out the door into a blast of early-morning mountain air. All I had on
was a pair of bike shorts and a short-sleeved racing jersey. I got five minutes down the road, and
thought, I can't handle this. It was frigid.
I turned around and went back to the room. I said, "Mom, it's so cold out there I can't ride. I
need a jacket or something." We looked through our luggage, and I didn't have a single piece of
warm clothing. I hadn't brought anything. I was totally unprepared. It was the act of a complete
My mom said, "Well, I have a little windbreaker that I brought," and she pulled out this tiny
pink jacket. I've told you how small and delicate she is. It looked like something a doll would
"I'll take it," I said. It was that cold.
I went back outside. The sleeves came up to my elbows, and it was tight all over, but I wore it
all through my warmup, a 45-minute ride. I still had it on when I got to the starting area. Staying
warm is critical for a time trial, because when they say "go," you've got to be completely ready
to go, boom, all-out for 12 miles. But I was still cold.
Desperate, I said, "Mom, get in the car, and turn on the heat as hot and high as it'll go."
She started the car and let it run, and put the heat on full blast. I got in and huddled in front of
the heating vents. I said, "Just tell me when it's time to go." That was my warmup.
Finally, it was my turn. I got out of the car and right onto the bike. I went to the start line and
took off. I smashed the course record by 45 seconds.
The things that were important to people in Piano were becoming less and less important to me.
School and socializing were second to me now; developing into a world-class athlete was first.
My life's ambition wasn't to own a tract home near a strip mall. I had a fast car and money in my
wallet, but that was because I was winning races– in sports none of my classmates understood
or cared about.
I took longer and longer training rides by myself. Sometimes a bunch of us would go camping or
waterskiing, and afterward, instead of riding home in a car with everyone else, I'd cycle all the
way back alone. Once, after a camping trip in Texoma with some buddies, I rode 60 miles
Not even the teachers at school seemed to understand what I was after. During the second
semester of my senior year, I was invited by the U.S. Cycling Federation to go to Colorado
Springs to train with the junior U.S. national team, and to travel to Moscow for my first big
international bike race, the 1990 Junior World Championships. Word had gotten around after
my performance in New Mexico.
But the administrators at Piano East objected. They had a strict policy: no unexcused absences.
You'd think a trip to Moscow would be worth extra credits, and you'd think a school would be
proud to have an Olympic prospect in its graduation rolls. But they didn't care.
I went to Colorado Springs anyway, and then to Moscow. At the Junior Worlds, I had no idea
what I was doing, I was all raw energy with no concept of pacing or tactics. But I led for several
laps anyway, before I faded, out of gas from attacking too early. Still, the U.S. federation
officials were impressed, and the Russian coach told everybody I was the best young cyclist he
had seen in years.
I was gone for six weeks. When I got back in March, my grades were all zeroes because of the
missed attendance. A team of six administrators met with my mother and me, and told us that
unless I made up all of the work in every subject over just a few weeks, I wouldn't graduate
with my class. My mother and I were stunned.
"But there's no way I can do that," I told them.
The suits just looked at me.
"You're not a quitter, are you?" one of them said.
I stared back at them. I knew damn well that if I played football and wore Polo shirts and had
parents who belonged to Los Rios Country Club, things would be different.
"This meeting is over," I said.
We got up and walked out. We had already paid for the graduation announcements, the cap and
gown, and the senior prom. My mother said, "You stay in school for the rest of the day, and by
the time you get home, I'll have this worked out."
She went back to her office and called every private school in the Dallas phone book. She
would ask a private school to accept me, and then confess that she couldn't pay for the tuition,
so could they take me for free? She dialed schools all over the area and explained our dilemma.
"He's not a bad kid," she'd plead. "He doesn't do drugs. I promise you, he's going places."
By the end of the day, she'd found a private academy, Bending Oaks, that was willing to accept
me if I took a couple of make-up courses. We transferred all of my credits from Piano East, and I
got my degree on time. At the graduation ceremony, all of my classmates had maroon tassels on
their caps, while mine was Piano East gold, but I wasn't a bit embarrassed.
I decided to go to my senior prom at Piano East anyway. We'd already paid for it, so I wasn't
about to miss it. I bought a corsage for my date, rented a tuxedo, and booked a limousine. That
night, as I was getting dressed in my tux and bow tie, I had an idea. My mother had never been
in a limo.
I wanted her to experience that ride. How do you articulate all that you feel for and owe to a
parent? My mother had given me more than any teacher or father figure ever had, and she had
done it over some long hard years, years that must have looked as empty to her at times as those
brown Texas fields. When it came to never quitting, to not caring how it looked, to gritting your
teeth and pushing to the finish, I could only hope to have the stamina and fortitude of my
mother, a single woman with a young son and a small salary–and there was no reward for her at
the end of the day, either, no trophy or first-place check. For her, there was just the knowledge
that honest effort was a transforming experience, and that her love was redemptive. Every time
she said, "Make an obstacle an opportunity, make a negative a positive," she was talking about
me, I realized; about her decision to have me and the way she had raised me.
"Get your prom dress on," I told her.
She owned a beautiful sundress that she liked to call her "prom dress," so she put it on and got
in the car with my date and me, and together we rode around town for more than an hour,
laughing and toasting my graduation, until it was time to drop us off at the dance.
My mother was happy again, and settling into a new relationship. When I was 17, she met a
man named John Walling, a good guy who she eventually married. I liked him, and we became
friends, and I would be sorry when they split up in 1998.
It's funny. People are always saying to me, "Hey, I ran into your father." I have to stop and think,
Exactly who do they mean? It could be any of three people, and frankly, my birth father I don't
know from a bank teller, and I have nothing to say to Terry. Occasionally, some of the
Armstrongs try to get in touch with me, as if we're family. But we aren't related, and I wish they
would respect my feelings on the subject. My family are the Mooneyhams. As for Armstrong, it's
as if I made up my name, that's how I feel about i t .
I'm sure the Armstrongs would give you 50,000 different reasons why I needed a father, and
what great jobs they did. But I disagree. My mother gave me everything. All I felt for them was
a kind of coldness, and a lack of trust.
around Piano. Most of my Piano East classmates went on to the state-university system; my
buddy Steve, for instance, got his degree from North Texas State in 1993. (Not long ago, Piano
East held its 10th reunion. I wasn't invited.)
I was getting tired of living in Piano. I was competing in bike races all over the country for a
domestic trade team sponsored by Su-baru-Montgomery, but I knew the real racing scene was in
Europe, and I felt I should be there. Also, I had too much resentment for the place after what
had happened before my graduation.
I was in limbo. By now I was regularly beating the adult men I competed against, whether in a
triathlon, or a 10K run, or a Tuesday-night crit at the Piano loop. To pass the time, I still hung
around the Richardson Bike Mart, owned by Jim Hoyt.
Jim had been an avid rider as a young man, but then he got shipped off to Vietnam when he was
19, and served two years in the infantry, the toughest kind of duty. When he came home, all he
wanted to do was ride a bike again. He started out as a distributor for Schwinn, and then he
opened his own store with his wife, RJionda. For years Jim and Rhonda have cultivated young
riders in the Dallas area by fronting them bikes and equipment, and by paying them stipends. Jim
believed in performance incentives. We would compete for cash and free stuff he'd put up, and
we raced that much harder because of it. All through my senior year in high school, I earned
$500 a month riding for Jim Hoyt.
Jim had a small office in the back of his store where we'd sit around and talk. I didn't pay much
attention to school principals, or stepfathers, but sometimes I liked to talk to him. "I work my
butt off, but I love who I am," he'd say. "If you judge everybody by money, you got a lot to learn
as you move through this life, 'cause I got some friends who own their own companies, and I
got some friends who mow yards." But Jim was tough too, and you didn't fool with him. I had a
healthy respect for his temper.
One night at the Tuesday crits, I got into a sprint duel with another rider, an older man I wasn't
real fond of. As we came down the final stretch, our bikes made contact. We crossed the finish
line shoving each other, and we were throwing punches before our bikes came to a stop. Then
we were on each other, in the dirt. Jim and some others finally pried us apart, and everybody
laughed at me because I wanted to keep duking it out. But Jim got mad at me, and wasn't going
to allow that kind of thing. He walked over and picked up my bike, and wheeled it away. I was
sorry to see it go.
It was a Schwinn Paramount, a great bike that I had ridden in Moscow at the World
Championships, and I wanted to use it again in a stage race the following week. A little later, I
went over to Jim's house. He came out into the front yard.
"Can I have my bike back?" I said.
"Nope," he said. "You want to talk to me, you come to my office tomorrow."
I backed away from him. He was irate, to the point that I was afraid he might take a swing at
me. And there was something else he wasn't too happy about: he knew I had a habit of speeding
in the Camaro.
A few days later, he took the car back, too. I was beside myself. I had made all the payments on
that car, about $5,000 worth. On the other hand, some of that money had come from the stipend
he paid me to ride for his team. But I wasn't thinking clearly, I was too mad. When you're 17
and a man takes a Camaro IROC Z away from you, he's on your hit list. So I never did go see
Jim. I was too angry, and too afraid of him.
It was years before we spoke again.
Instead, I split town. After my visit to Colorado Springs and Moscow, I was named to the U.S.
national cycling team, and I got a call from Chris Carmichael, the team's newly named director.
Chris had heard about my reputation; I was super strong, but I didn't understand a lot about the
tactics of racing. Chris told me he wanted to develop a whole new group of young American
cyclists; the sport was stagnant in the U.S. and he was seeking fresh kids to rejuvenate it. He
named some other young cyclists who showed potential, guys like Bobby Julich and George
Hincapie, and said he wanted me to be one of them. How would I like to go to Europe?
It was time to get out of the house.
your feet clamped to the bike pedals churning at 20 to 40 miles per hour, for hours and hours
and days on end across whole continents. It means gulping water and wolfing candy bars in the
saddle because you lose 10 to 12 liters of fluid and burn 6,000 calories a day at such a pace, and
you don't stop for anything, not even to piss, or to put on a raincoat. Nothing interrupts the
high-speed chess match that goes on in the tight pack of cyclists called the peloton as you hiss
through the rain and labor up cold mountainsides, swerving over rain-slick pavement and
jouncing over cobblestones, knowing that a single wrong move by a nervous rider who grabs his
brakes too hard or yanks too sharply on his handlebars can turn you and your bike into a heap of
twisted metal and scraped flesh.
I had no idea what I was getting into. When I left home at 18, my idea of a race was to leap on
and start pedaling. I was called "brash" in my early days, and the tag has followed me ever since,
maybe deservedly. I was very young and I had a lot to learn, and I said and did some things that
maybe I shouldn't have, but I wasn't trying to be a jerk. I was just Texan. The "Tore de Texas,"
the Spanish press named me.
In my first big international race, I did everything my coach told me not to do. It was at the 1990
amateur World Championships in Utsunomiya, Japan, a 115-mile road race over a tough course
with a long, hard climb. To make matters more difficult, it happened to be a sweltering day with
temperatures in the 90s. I was competing as a member of the U.S. national team under Chris
Carmichael, a sandy-haired, freckled young coach who I didn't know very well yet–and didn't
listen t o .
Chris gave me strict instructions: I was to hang back in the pack for much of the race and look
for his signal before making any kind of move. It was too hot and the course too arduous to try
to race in front, into the headwind. The smart thing to do was to draft and conserve my
"I want you to wait," Chris said. "I don't want to see you near the front, catching any wind."
I nodded, and moved to the start area. On the first lap, I did what he told me to and rode near
the back. But then I couldn't help myself; I wanted to test my legs. I began to move up. On the
second lap, I took the lead, and when I came by the checkpoint, I was all by myself, 45 seconds
up on the field. I streaked past Chris. As I went by, I glanced over at him. He had his arms
spread wide, as if to say, "What are you doing?"
I grinned at him and gave him the Texas Longhorn sign: I waved, my pinky and forefinger
extended in the air. Hook 'em, horns.
Chris started yelling to the U.S. staff, "What is he doing?"
What was I doing? I was just going. It was a move that would become known as classic early
Armstrong: a contrary and spectacularly ill-advised attack. I proceeded to go solo for the next
three laps, and built a lead of about a minute and a half. I was feeling pretty good about myself,
when the heat started to get to me. Next thing I knew, 30 guys came up and joined me. With
half the race still to go, I was already suffering. I tried to keep riding at the front, but I didn't
have enough left. Sapped by the heat and the climbs, I finished llth.
Still, it was the best American finish in the history of the race, and by the time it ended, Chris
was more pleased than angry. Afterward, we went to the hotel bar and drank a beer together
and talked. I wasn't sure how I felt about Chris. When I first came out of Piano he had split the
U.S. national team into two groups, and placed me with the "B" team, and I hadn't quite
forgiven him for the slight. I would learn, however, that his easygoing manner came with a
brotherly loyalty and a vast amount of cycling wisdom; he was a former Olympian, and had
competed with Greg LeMond as a young cyclist.
We sipped Kirin and went over the events of the day, laughing about them. Then suddenly Chris
turned serious. He congratulated me for the llth-place finish, and said he liked what he saw.
"You weren't afraid to fail," he said. "You weren't out there thinking, 'What if I get caught?' " I
absorbed the praise happily.
But then he added, "Of course, if you had known what you were doing and conserved your
energy, you'd have been in the medals."
Here I had done better than any American ever before, and Chris was suggesting it wasn't good
enough. In fact, in his subtle way, he was telling me that I had blown it. He kept talking. "I'm
serious. You can do a lot better," he said. "I'm convinced you're going to be a world champion.
But there's a lot of work to do."
Chris pointed out that the top riders, the Marco Pantanis, the Miguel Indurains, were all as
strong as or stronger than I was. "So is everybody you're racing at this level," he said. What
would separate me would be my tactics.
I had to learn how to race, and the only place to do it was on the bike. That first year, I must
have spent 200 days overseas, riding around Europe, because the true test was on the road,
where there was no hiding in a 160-mile race. In the last part, you either had it or you didn't.
At home, I settled in Austin, in the Texas hill country where stony, dark-green banks surround
the town lake that's fed by the wide, uneasy waters of the Colorado River. In Austin, nobody
seemed to care what I wore, or whether I "belonged" or not. In fact, I couldn't find two people
dressed alike, and some of the wealthiest people in town looked like vagrants. It was a town
that seemed to be made for the young, with an ever-evolving selection of bars and music clubs
on 6th Street, and hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex joints where I could eat chili peppers for sport.
It was also a great town for training, with endless bike trails and back roads to explore for miles
around. I rented a small bungalow near the University of Texas campus, which was fitting since
I was a student, not in the classroom, of course, but on the bike.
Cycling is an intricate, highly politicized sport, and it's far more of a team sport than the
spectator realizes, as I was discovering. It has a language all its own, pieced together from a
sampling of European words and phrases, and a peculiar ethic as well. On any team, each rider
has a job, and is responsible for a specific part of the race. The slower riders are called
domestiques–servants–because they do the less glamorous work of "pulling" up hills ("pulling" is
cycling lingo for blocking the wind for the other riders) and protecting their team leader through
the various perils of a stage race. The team leader is the principal cyclist, the rider most capable
of sprinting to a finish with 150 miles in his legs. I was starting as a domestique, but I would
gradually be groomed for the role of team leader.
I learned about the peloton–the massive pack of riders that makes up the main body of the race.
To the spectator it seems like a radiant blur, humming as it goes by, but that colorful blur is rife
with contact, the clashing of handlebars, elbows, and knees, and it's full of international
intrigues and deals. The speed of the peloton varies. Sometimes it moves at 20 miles an hour,
the riders pedaling slow and chatting. Other times, the group is spanned out across the road and
we're going 40 miles an hour. Within the peloton, there are constant negotiations between
competing riders: pull me today, and I'll pull you tomorrow. Give an inch, make a friend. You
don't make deals that compromise yourself or your team, of course, but you help other riders if
you can, so they might return the favor.
The politics could be ambiguous and confusing to a young rider, even upsetting, and I got a
harsh lesson in them in early 1991. My plan was to race as an amateur through the 1992
Olympics in Barcelona, and to turn pro right afterward. In the meantime, I continued to race in
the U.S. for Subaru-Montgomery. Technically, I was a member of two different teams:
internationally, I raced for the U.S. national team under Chris Carmichael, but domestically I
competed for Subaru-Montgomery.
While I was overseas with the national team in '91, we entered a prestigious race in Italy called
the Settimana Bergamasca. It was a pro-am stage race, a ten-day ride through northern Italy, and
some of the best cyclists in the world would be there. No American had ever won it–but our
U.S. team under Chris had great morale and teamwork, and we felt we might just pull it off.
There was an awkwardness, however. The Subaru-Montgomery team was also entered, and I
would be racing against them, riding in my stars and stripes, while they would wear their
Subaru-Montgomery jerseys. Nine days out often, they were my teammates, but for this race, we
would be competitors.
Early in the race, a Subaru–Montgomery rider and friend of mine, Nate Reese, took the overall
lead. But I was riding well, too. I moved into second. I was exultant; it seemed like the best of
both worlds to have the two of us riding at the front. But the Subaru-Montgomery team director
didn't feel the same way. He was not happy to see me in contention, and he let me know it.
Between two stages, he called me over. "You work for Nate," he said to me. I stared at him,
uncomprehending. Surely he didn't mean I was supposed to hang back and play the role of
domestique to Nate? But that's exactly what he did mean. "You're not to attack," he ordered.
Then he told me straight out that I was obliged to let Nate win.
I was deeply loyal to the national team. Compared to the rest of the field, we were underdogs, a
ragtag crew staying in a tiny hotel, three guys to a room, with no money. We were on such a
tight budget that Chris washed our water bottles each night and recycled them, while the pro
teams like Subaru–Montgomery would throw theirs away after one use. If I could win the
Settimana Bergamasca, it would be a huge victory for the U.S. program, and for American
cycling in general. But my trade-team manager was telling me to hold back.
I went to Chris and confessed that I was being told not to ride hard by the Subaru-Montgomery
director. "Lance, this is your race to win," Chris said. "You can't not attack. It's yours."
The next day, I rode hard. Imagine: you're going up a hill with 100 guys in the peloton.
Gradually, 50 guys get dropped, then 20 more get dropped, and then 10 more. You're down to
15 or 20 guys. It's a race of attrition. To make things even harder on your competitors, you
attack–raise the tempo even more. Those remaining riders who can't keep up get dropped, too.
That's the essence of road racing.
But I was supposed to wait for Nate. The more I thought about it, it was not even an option. I
said to myself, If he's strong enough to stay here, fine. If he gets dropped, I'm not waiting for
him. He got dropped. And I didn't wait for him.
I went with the leaders, and at the end of the day I wore the leader's jersey, while Nate had lost
about 20 minutes or so. The Subaru-Montgomery team director was furious, and afterward, he
angrily confronted Chris and me. "What are you trying to do?" he asked. Chris jumped to my
"Hey, this is a bike race," Chris said. "He's riding to win."
As we walked away, I was deeply upset. On the one hand I felt betrayed and abandoned by the
team director, and on the other, I still struggled with guilt and conflicting loyalty. That night,
Chris and I sat down to talk again. "Look, if people are saying you shouldn't attack, they aren't
thinking about what's best for you," Chris said. "This is a historic race and an American has
never won it, and you're riding it with the best pros in Italy. If you win, it's great for your career.
What's more, you're riding for the U.S. national team. If you don't do your best, what message
does that send?"
In my opinion, it would have been the worst possible message: "Sorry I'm in the lead–I have to
let this other guy win because he's a pro." I couldn't do it. Yet I was worried that the team
director could damage my future as a pro by bad-mouthing me.
Chris said, "Don't worry, you just do what you think is right. If you win this race, you're going
to be set."
I wanted to talk to my mother. I could barely figure out the phones and how to dial the States,
but I finally got through to her.
"Son, what's going on?" she said.
I explained the situation, so upset I was practically stuttering. "Mom, I don't know what to do,"
I said. "I'm in one of the leading positions, but the Subaru director is telling me Nate Reese is
going to win, and I have to help him."
My mother listened, and then she said, "Lance, if you feel like you can win the race, you do it."
"I think I can."
"Then to hell with them," she said. "You're going to win this race. Don't let anybody intimidate
you–you put your head down, and you race."
I put my head down, and I raced. I was an unpopular leader, and not just with
Subaru-Montgomery; the Italian race fans lining the course were so incensed that an American
was in front that they scattered glass and thumbtacks in the road, hoping I would blow a tire.
But as the race wore on, the Italians steadily warmed to me, and by the time I crossed the finish
line, they cheered.
I was the winner. I had done it, given the U.S. national team a victory in a European race. Our
team was ecstatic, and so was Chris. That night, as I came down from the podium, Chris told
me something I've never forgotten.
"You're gonna win the Tour de France one day," he said.
CYCLING is A SPORT THAT EMBARRASSES YOUTH, rather than rewards it. As I had
planned, I turned pro immediately after the Olympics–and immediately finished dead last in my
very first race.
I'd had a disappointing performance in the Barcelona Games, finishing 14th in the road race, but
somehow I managed to impress one of the most influential men in American cycling, a man
named Jim Ochowicz, who took a chance and signed me to a pro contract. "Och," as everybody
called him, was the director of a team sponsored by Motorola, made up primarily of American
riders. Och was a cycling pioneer: in 1985 he had organized the first predominantly American
squad to race overseas, and proven that U.S. riders could compete
in the traditionally European sport. (One of those early riders for Och's Team 7-Eleven was
Chris Carmichael.) A year later, Greg LeMond won the 1986 Tour de France and brought the
event into the American consciousness.
Och was always on the lookout for rising young Americans, and Chris steered me toward him.
He introduced us one night in the midst of the Tour Du Pont, the biggest stage race held on
American soil. I went to Och's hotel for what amounted to a job interview. I didn't realize it
then, but I was meeting my surrogate father.
My first impression was of a gangly, soft-spoken man in his 40s with an easy laugh and a broad,
toothy smile. We sat around and chatted about where I came from, and he told me what he was
looking for in a rider: he wanted to find a young American who might follow in LeMond's
footsteps and win the Tour de France. Och's teams had placed riders fourth on a couple of
different occasions, but had never won i t .
Och asked me what my own ambition was. "I want to be the best rider there is," I said. "I want
to go to Europe and be a pro. I don't want to just be good at it, I want to be the best." That was
good enough for Och; he handed me a contract and packed me off to Europe.
My first race was the Clasica San Sebastian. They may call it a "classic," but in reality it's a
horribly punishing single-day race in which riders cover more than a hundred miles, frequently
over bone-rattling terrain, in terrible weather. It is atmospheric and historic, and notoriously
brutal. San Sebastian turned out to be a gorgeous seaside town in Basque country, but the day
of my debut was gray, pouring rain, and bit-ingly cold. There is nothing more uncomfortable
than riding in the rain, because you can never, ever get warm. Your Lycra jersey is nothing more
than a second skin. Cold rain soaks it, plastering it to your body, so the chill mingles with your
sweat and seeps down into your bones. Your muscles seize up and grow heavy with frigid,
sodden exhaustion.
The day of my debut, it rained so hard it hurt. As we started off into the stinging, icy downpour,
I quickly faded to the back, and as the day wore on, I slipped farther and farther behind,
shivering and struggling to pedal. Soon, I was in last place. Ahead of me, the field was growing
thinner as riders began to give up. Every so often one would pull over to the side of the road and
abandon the race. I was tempted to do the same, to squeeze the brakes, rise up from the bars,
and coast to the side of the road. It would be so easy. But I couldn't, not in my first pro start. It
would be too humiliating. What would my teammates think? I wasn't a quitter.
Why don't you just quit?
Son, you never quit.
Fifty riders dropped out, but I kept pedaling. I came in dead last in the field of 111 riders. I
crossed the finish line almost half an hour behind the winner, and as I churned up the last hill,
the Spanish crowd began to laugh and hiss at me. "Look at the sorry one in last place," one
A few hours later, I sat in the Madrid airport, slumped in a chair. I wanted to quit the entire
sport. It was the most sobering race of my life; on my way to San Sebastian, I had actually
thought I had a chance of winning, and now I wondered if I could compete at all. They had
laughed at me.
Professional cycling was going to be a lot harder than I'd thought; the pace was faster, the
terrain tougher, the competition more fit than I ever imagined. I pulled a sheaf of unused plane
tickets out of my pocket. Among them, I had a return portion to the States. I considered using it.
Maybe I should just go home, I thought, and find something else to do, something I was good
a t .
I went to a pay phone and called Chris Carmichael. I told him how depressed I was, and that I
was considering quitting. Chris just listened, and then he said, "Lance, you are going to learn
more from that experience than any other race in your whole life." I was right to have stayed in
and finished, to prove to my new teammates that I was a tough rider. If they were going to rely
on me, they needed to know I wasn't a quitter. Now they did.
"Okay," I said. "Okay. I'll keep going."
I hung up, and boarded the plane for the next race. I had just two days off, and then I was
scheduled to compete in the Championship of Zurich. I had a lot to prove, to myself and
everyone else–and unless my heart exploded in my chest, I was not going to be last again.
I finished second in Zurich. I attacked from the start and stayed on the attack for practically the
entire race. I had little or no idea tactically how to ride in the race–I just put my head down and
bulled through it, and when I stepped onto the medal podium it was more with relief than
elation. Okay, I thought to myself, I think I can do this after all.
I called Chris Carmichael. "See?" Chris said. In the space of just a few days I had gone from
depressed rookie to legitimate competitor. The turnaround provoked murmurs around the sport:
Who's this guy and what's he all about? people wanted to know.
It was a question I still needed to answer for myself.
World Series. I was a gate-crasher in a revered and time-honored sport, and I had little or no
concept of its rules, written and unwritten, or its etiquette. Let's just say that my Texas manners
didn't exactly play well on the continent.
There was a big difference between the discreet jockeying of European cycling, and the
swaggering, trash-talking American idea of competition I was reared with. Like most
Americans, I grew up oblivious to cycling; it wasn't until LeMond's victory in the '86 Tour that I
really noticed the sport. There was a way things were done, and attitudes that I didn't
understand, and even when I did understand them I didn't feel I had to be a part of them. In fact,
I ignored them.
I raced with no respect. Absolutely none. I paraded, mouthed off, shoved my fists in the air. I
never backed down. The journalists loved me; I was different, I made good copy, I was colorful.
But I was making enemies.
A road is only so wide. Riders are constantly moving around, fighting for position, and often the
smart and diplomatic thing to do is to let a fellow rider in. In a long stage race, you give a little
to make a friend, because you might need one later. Give an inch, make a friend. But I wouldn't
do it. Partly it was my character at the time: I was insecure and defensive, not totally confident
of how strong I was. I was still the kid from Piano with the chip on my shoulder, riding
headlong, pedaling out of anger. I didn't think I could afford to give up inches.
Sometimes I would yell at other riders in the peloton, in frustration: "Pull or get out of the way!"
I didn't understand yet that for various reasons a guy might sit on the back, maybe because his
team leader told him to, or because he was tired and hurting. It wasn't his job to move out of my
way, or to work harder so I could ride at a faster pace. (I don't get so riled up about those things
anymore, and often I'm the one who sits on the back, hurting.)
I would learn that in the peloton, other riders can totally mess you up, just to keep you from
winning. There is a term in cycling, "flicking." It's a derivative of the German word ficken,
which means "to fuck." If you flick somebody in the peloton, it means to screw him, just to get
him. There's a lot of flicking in the peloton.
Guys would flick me just to flick me. They would race to see that I didn't win, simply because
they didn't like me. They could cut me off. They could isolate me, and make me ride slower, or
they could surge and push the pace, making me work harder than I wanted to, weakening me.
Fortunately I was surrounded by some protective teammates, guys like Sean Yates, Steve Bauer,
and Frankie Andreu, who tried to gently explain that I wasn't doing myself any good, or them
either. "Lance, you've got to try to control yourself, you're making enemies," Frankie would say.
They seemed to understand that I had some maturing to do, and if they were exasperated with
me, they kept it to themselves, and patiently steered me in the right direction.
Teammates are critical in cycling–I had eight of them on the Motorola squad, and I needed each
and every one. On a severe climb it could save me thirty percent of my energy to ride behind a
colleague, drafting, "sitting on his wheel." Or, on a windy day, my eight teammates would stay
out in front of me, shielding me and saving me up to 50 percent of the work I'd have to do
otherwise. Every team needs guys who are sprinters, guys who are climbers, guys willing to do
the dirty work. It was very important to recognize the effort of each person involved–and not to
waste it. "Who's going to work hard for someone who doesn't win?" Och asked me, and it was a
good question.
You don't win a road race all on your own. You need your teammates–and you need the
goodwill and cooperation of your competitors, too. People had to want to ride for you, and with
you. But in those first months, a couple of my competitors literally wanted to punch me out.
I would insult great European champions. In one of my first races as a pro, the Tour of the
Mediterranean, I encountered Moreno Argentin, a very serious, very respected Italian cyclist. He
was one of the dons of the sport, a former World Champion who had won races all over the
continent. But I surged right up to the front and challenged him. There were 150 guys bunched
all together, jockeying for position, flicking, coming over on each other, and pushing each other
out of the way.
As I drew even with Argentin, he glanced at me, vaguely surprised, and said, "What are you
doing here, Bishop?"
For some reason it infuriated me. He didn't know my name. He thought I was Andy Bishop,
another member of the American team. I thought, This guy doesn't know my name?
"Fuck you, Chiapucci!" I said, calling him by the name of one of his teammates.
Argentin did a double take, incredulous. He was the capo, the boss, and to him I was a faceless
young American who had yet to win anything, yet here I was cussing him out. But I'd had a
number of promising results, and in my own mind, he should have known who I was.
"Hey, Chiapucci," I said. "My name's Lance Armstrong, and by the end of this race you'll know
For the rest of the race, my sole aim was to throw Argentin off his pedestal headfirst. But in the
end, I faded. It was a five-day stage race, and I couldn't keep up–I was too inexperienced.
Afterward, Argentin came to our team compound, screaming. He ranted at my teammates about
my behavior. That was part of the etiquette too; if a young rider was becoming a problem, it was
up to the older riders to get him in line. Roughly translated, what Argentin was saying was,
"You need to teach him some manners."
A few days later, I entered a race in Italy, this one the Trophee Laigueglia, a one-day classic.
The Trophee was considered an automatic win for Argentin, and I knew it. The favorites in any
race in Italy were, of course, the Italians, and especially their leader Argentin. One thing you
didn't do to a veteran cyclist was disrespect him in his home country, in front of his fans and
sponsors. But I went after him again. I challenged him when nobody else would, and this time
the result was different. In the Trophee Laigueglia, I won the duel.
At the end of the race, it was a breakaway of four riders, and at the front were Argentin,
Chiapucci, a Venezuelan named Sierra–and me. I hurled myself through the final sprint, and
took the lead. Argentin couldn't believe he was going to lose to me, the loudmouth American.
He then did something that has always stayed with me. Five yards from the finish line, he
braked. He locked up his wheels–intentionally. He took fourth, out of the medals. I won the
There are three places on a podium, and Argentin didn't want to stand beside me. In an odd
way, it made more of an impression on me than any lecture or fistfight could have. What he was
saying was that he didn't respect me. It was a curiously elegant form of insult, and an effective
In the years since then, I've grown up and learned to admire things Italian: their exquisite
manners, art, food, and articulacy, not to mention their great rider, Moreno Argentin. In fact,
Argentin and I have become good friends. I have a great deal of affection for him, and when we
see each other these days, we embrace, Italian style, and laugh.
crazily as I wove through a peloton. I'd attack anytime. I'd just go. Someone would surge, and
I'd counter, not out of any sense of real strategy, but as if to say, "Is that all you got?"
I had my share of results because I was a strong kid, and I rode on the tactics and coattails of
others, but much of the time I was too aggressive, repeating the same critical mistake I'd made
riding for Chris Carmichael back in Japan: I'd charge to the front and ride all by myself, and then
falter. Sometimes I didn't even finish in the top 20. Afterward one of my teammates would ask,
"What the hell were you doing?"
"I felt good," I'd say, lamely.
But I was fortunate to ride for two very smart, sensitive coaches: I continued to train with Chris
as part of the national team, while Och and his team director, Henny Kuiper, managed my daily
racing for Motorola. They spent a lot of time on the phone comparing notes, and they
recognized and agreed on something important: my strength was the sort you couldn't teach or
train. You can teach someone how to control their strength, but you can't teach them to be
While my aggression wasn't winning me friends in the peloton, it might become a valuable asset
one day, they suspected. Och and Chris felt that endurance events were not only about suffering
pain, but about inflicting it, too, and in my attacking nature they saw the beginnings of
something predatory. "You ever hear about how when you stab somebody, it's really personal?"
Chris said once. "Well, a bike race is that kind of personal. Don't kid yourself. It's a knife
Och and Chris felt that if I ever gained control of my temperament, I'd be a rider to reckon with.
In the meantime they handled me very carefully, intuiting that if they started yelling at me, I
would most likely turn off, or rebel. They decided the lessons should sink in slowly.
There are some things you learn better through experience, and Och and Chris let me figure it
out on my own. At first, I never evaluated my races. I'd think, "I was the strongest rider out
there; those guys couldn't keep up with me." But when I lost several races, I was forced to think
again, and one day it finally occurred to me: "Wait a minute. If I'm the strongest guy, why didn't
I win?"
Slowly, steadily, Och and Chris passed along their knowledge of the character of various
courses, and the way a race evolves tactically. "There are moments when you can use your
energy to your benefit, and there are moments when you use it to no avail. That's a waste," Och
I began to listen to the other riders, and let them rein me in. I roomed with two veterans, Sean
Yates and Steve Bauer, who had a lot of influence over me. I fed off them, picked up a lot of
knowledge just sitting around the dinner table. They helped to keep my feet on the ground. I
was Mr. Energy, bouncing off the walls, saying things like, "Let's go out there and kick butt!"
They would roll their eyes.
Och not only tamed me; more important, he educated me. I was uncomfortable living in Europe
seven months out the year; I missed my Shiner Bock beer and Mexican food, I missed the hot,
dry Texas fields, and I missed my apartment in Austin, where I had a longhorn skull over the
fireplace mantel covered in red, white, and blue leather, with a Lone Star on his forehead. I
whined about the cars, the hotels, the food. "Why are we staying at this dump?" I'd say. I was
learning a cycling tradition: the discomfort of the sport extends to the accommodations. Some of
the hotels we stayed in made Motel 6 look pretty nice–there were crumbs on the bare floors and
hairs in the bed-sheets. To me, the meat was mysterious, the pasta was soggy, and the coffee
tasted like brown water. But eventually I became acclimated, and thanks to my teammates, my
discomfort got to be funny. We'd pull up in front of our next hotel, and they'd just wait for me
to start complaining.
When I look back at the raw young rider and person I was, I feel impatience with him, but I also
feel some sympathy. Underneath the tough talk and the combativeness and the bitching, I was
afraid. I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of the train schedules and the airports and the
roads. I was afraid of the phones, because I didn't know how to dial them. I was afraid of the
menus, because I couldn't read them.
Once, at a dinner for some Japanese business executives hosted by Och, I particularly
distinguished myself. Och asked that each of the riders introduce himself, stating his name and
country. I stood up. "Hello, I'm Lance from Texas," I boomed. The whole party broke up. They
were laughing at me again.
But inevitably, living in Europe began to polish me. I rented an apartment in Lake Como, Italy,
and was charmed by that misty, dusty town tucked in the Italian Alps. Och was a wine lover,
and I benefited from his taste, learning to recognize fine food and fine wine. I discovered I had a
knack for languages. I was beginning to speak bits of Spanish, Italian, and French, and I could
even limp around in Dutch if I had to. I window-shopped through Milan, where I learned what a
really handsome suit looked like. One afternoon I walked into the Duomo, and in that instant all
of my ideas about art changed forever. I was overwhelmed by the color and proportion of it, by
the gray stillness in the archways, the warm parchment glow of the candles and the soaring
stained glass, the eloquence of the sculptures.
As the summer approached, I was growing up. On the bike, things began to come together and
my riding steadied. "It's all happening," Och said. And it was. An American race sponsor, Thrift
Drugs, put up a $1 million bonus for anyone who could win the Triple Crown of Cycling, a
sweep of three prestigious races in the U.S. I fixated on it. Each race was different: to get the
bonus you'd have to win a tough one-day race in Pittsburgh, then a six-day stage race in West
Virginia, and finally the U.S. Pro Championships, which was a one-day road race covering 156
miles through Philadelphia. It was a long shot, the promoters knew. Only a complete rider could
win it: you'd have to be a sprinter, a climber, and a stage racer rolled into one, and most
important, you'd have to be thoroughly consistent–something I hadn't yet been.
All the riders talked about winning the bonus, and in the next breath we'd talk about how
impossible it was. But one night when I was on the phone with my mother she asked me, "What
are the odds of winning that thing?"
I said, "Good."
By June I had won the first two legs, and the press was going crazy and the promoters were
reeling. All that remained was the U.S. Pro Championships in Philly–but I would have 119 other
cyclists trying to stop me. The anticipation was huge; an estimated half a million people would
line the route.
The day before the race I called my mother and asked her to fly up to Philadelphia. On such
short notice, she'd have to pay almost $1,000 round-trip, but she decided it was like buying a
lottery ticket–if she didn't come, and I won, she'd always regret not being there.
I was resolved to ride a smart race, no irrational headfirst charges. Think the race through, I told
For most of the day, that's what I did. Then, with about 20 miles left, I went. I attacked on the
most notoriously steep part of the course–Manayunk–and as I did, I was almost in a rage. I don't
know what happened–all I know is that I leaped out of the seat and hammered down on the
pedals, and as I did so I screamed for five full seconds. I opened up a huge gap on the field.
By the second-to-last lap, I had enough of a lead to blow my mother a kiss. I crossed the finish
line with the biggest winning margin in race history. I dismounted in a swarm of reporters, but I
broke away from them and went straight to my mom, and we put our faces in each other's
shoulder and cried.
That was the start of a dreamlike summer season. Next, I won a surprise victory in a stage of the
Tour de France with another late charge: at the end of a 114-mile ride from Chalons-sur-Marne
to Verdun, I nearly crashed into the race barriers as I sprinted away from the pack over the last
50 yards to the finish. A Tour stage was considered an extremely valuable victory in its own
right, and at 21,1 was the youngest man ever to win one.
But to show you just how experienced you have to be to compete in the Tour, I had to pull out
of the race a couple of days later, incapable of continuing. I abandoned after the 12th stage, in
97th place and shivering. The Alps got me; they were "too long and too cold," I told reporters
afterward. I fell so far behind that when I got to the finish line, the team car had already left for
the hotel. I had to walk back to our rooms, pushing my bike up a gravel trail. "As if the stage
wasn't enough, we have to climb this thing," I told the press. I wasn't physically mature enough
yet to ride the arduous mountain stages.
I still struggled with impatience at times. I would ride smart for a while, and then backslide. I
just couldn't seem to get it through my head that in order to win I had to ride more slowly at
first. It took some time to reconcile myself to the notion that being patient was different from
being weak, and that racing strategically didn't mean giving less than all I had.
With only a week to go before the World Championships, I made a typical blunder in the
championship of Zurich and used myself up before the critical part of the race. Again, I didn't
even finish in the Top 20. Och could have lost his temper with me; instead he stayed over in
Zurich for the next two days and went riding with me. He was certain I could win at the Worlds
in Oslo–but only if I rode intelligently. As we trained together he chatted to me about
"The only thing you have to do is wait," he said. "Just wait. Two or three laps is soon enough.
Anything earlier and you'll waste your chance to win. But after that, you can attack as many
times as you want."
There were no ordinary cyclists in the World Championships. I would be facing big riders, at
their peak, and the favorite was Miguel Indurain, who had just come off of his third victory in
the Tour de France. If I wanted to win I'd have to overcome some long historical odds; no
21-year-old had ever won a world title in cycling.
In the last few days leading up to the race, I called my mother again, and asked her to come over
and stay with me. I didn't want to go through it alone, and she had always been a source of
confidence for me. Also, I wanted her to see me race in that company. She took some vacation
time from Ericsson and flew over to join me, and stayed with me in my hotel room.
She took care of me, the way she used to. She did my laundry in the sink, saw that I had what I
wanted to eat, answered the phone, and made sure I got my rest. I didn't have to talk cycling
with her, or explain how I felt–she just understood. The closer we got to that day, the quieter I
grew. I shut down, planning the race in my mind. She just read by a small lamp while I stared at
the ceiling or napped.
Finally race day arrived–but when I awoke, it was raining. I opened my eyes and saw drops on
the windowpanes. The hated, dreaded rain, the source of so much anguish and embarrassment in
San Sebastian.
It rained torrentially, all day long. But there was one person who suffered in the rain more than I
did that day: my mother. She sat in a grandstand in the rain for seven hours, and never once got
up. There was a big screen mounted in front of the grandstand so the crowd could watch us out
on the 18.4-kilometer course, and she sat there, drenched, watching riders crash all over the
When it rains in Europe the roads become covered with a slick sort of residue, made of dust and
petrol. Guys were thrown off their bikes right and lef1", their wheels sliding out from under
them. I crashed, too, twice. But each time I recovered quickly, got back on the bike, and
rejoined the race, still in contention.
Through it all, I waited, and waited. I held back, just as Och had told me to. With 14 laps to go,
I was in the lead group–and right there was Indurain, the bravura rider from Spain. Finally, on
the second-to-last climb, I attacked. I charged up the hill and reached the peak with my wheel in
front of the pack. I hurtled down the descent, and then soared right into another climb, a steep
ascent called the Ekeberg, with the other riders right on my back. I said to myself, "I've got to
go right now, with everything I've ever gone with," and I rose from the seat and attacked again,
and this time I opened up a gap.
On the other side of the Ekeberg was another long, dangerous descent, this one of four
kilometers, and in the rain anything could happen; the wheels could disappear out from under
you as the entire road became a slick. But I took the turns hard and tight, and at the bottom, I
glanced over my shoulder to see who was still with me.
No one.
I panicked. You made the same old mistake, I thought, desperately, you went too early. I must
have forgotten what lap it was. Surely there was still a lap to go, because a lead like this was too
good to be true.
I glanced down and checked my computer. It was the last lap.
I was going to win.
Over the last 700 meters, I started celebrating. I pumped my fists and my arms in the air, I blew
kisses, and I bowed to the crowd. As I crossed the finish line, I practically high-kicked like a
Rockette. Finally, I braked and dismounted, and in the crowds of people, the first thing I did
was look for my mother. I found her, and we stood there in the rain, hugging. I said, "We did it!
We did it." We both began to cry.
At some point in all of the post-race confusion and celebration and ceremony, a royal escort
arrived to inform me that King Harald of Norway wanted to greet me. I nodded and said, "Come
on, Mom. Let's go meet the king."
She said, "Well, okay."
We began to move through the security checkpoints. Finally, we approached a door, behind
which the king was waiting to give me a private audience. A security guard stopped us. "She'll
have to stop here," the royal escort told us. "The king will greet you alone."
"I don't check my mother at the door," I said.
I grabbed her arm and turned around to leave. "Come on, let's go," I said. I had no intention of
going anywhere without her.
The escort relented. "All right. Please, come with me." And we met the king, who was a very
nice man. Our audience was very short, and polite, and then we went back to celebrating.
It seemed like the end of something for my mother and me, a finish line. The tough part of the
fight was over; there would be no more naysayers telling us we wouldn't amount to anything, no
more concerns about bills or scrabbling for equipment and plane tickets. Maybe it was the end
of the long, hard climb of childhood.
ALTHOUGH I WAS A WORLD CHAMPION, I STILL HAD plenty of learning to do, and
the next three years were a process of testing and refinement. I had other successes, but life from
now on would be a matter of incremental improvements, of seeking the tiniest margin that
might separate me from the other elite riders.
There was a science to winning. The spectator rarely sees the technical side of cycling, but
behind the gorgeous rainbow blur of the peloton is the more boring reality that road racing is a
carefully calibrated thing, and often a race is won by a mere fraction of acceleration that was
generated in a performance lab or a wind tunnel or a velodrome long before the race ever
started. Cyclists are computer slaves; we hover over precise calculations of cadence, efficiency,
force, and wattage. I was constantly sitting on a stationary bike with electrodes all over my
body, looking for different positions on the bike that might gain mere seconds, or a piece of
equipment that might be a little bit more aerodynamic.
Just a few weeks after winning the Worlds, I went into a performance lab at the Olympic
Training Center in Colorado Springs with Chris Carmichael. Despite my big year I still had
some critical weaknesses, and I spent several days in the lab, plastered with electrodes while
doctors jabbed me with pins for blood tests. The idea was to determine my various thresholds
and breaking points, and thus to figure out how I could increase my efficiency on the bike. They
looked at my heart rate, my VO2 max, and in one day alone, they pricked my thumb 15 times to
check my blood.
We wanted to determine what my maximum effort was, and how long I could sustain it. We set
out to learn my optimum cadence: what was my most efficient pedal speed, and where were the
weaknesses in my pedaling technique, the dead spots where I was wasting energy? My stroke
was a symmetrical sledgehammer, straight up and down, and I was expending too much work
without getting enough speed from it. We went into a velodrome to look at my position on the
bike and determine where I was losing power. The idea in cycling is to generate the most speed
with the least amount of work; watts indicate the amount of work you are doing as you pedal.
We shifted me lower on the bike, and there was an immediate improvement.
At about the same time, I met the legendary Belgian rider Eddy Merckx, five-time winner of the
Tour de France, and one of the most ferociously attacking riders who's ever lived. I had heard all
the stories about Merckx, what a brave, hard-charging rider he was, and I thought that was the
kind of rider I wanted to be. I didn't just want to win, I wanted to win a certain way. We
became friends. Eddy told me that I could win a Tour de France someday–but that I needed to
lose weight. I was built like a linebacker, with a thick neck and slabs of muscle in my chest,
remnants of my career as a swimmer and triath-lete. Eddy explained that it was hard to haul all
of that weight up and down mountains over three weeks. I was still racing partly on raw power;
to win a Tour de France, I would have to find a way to lose weight without losing strength. So I
quit eating pastry, and laid off Tex-Mex, and understood that I would have to find a new kind of
strength, that inner strength called self-discipline.
By 1995, I still had not completed an entire Tour de France, only portions. My coaches didn't
think I was ready, and they were right; I had neither the body nor the mental toughness yet to
endure the hardship. A young rider has to be carefully walked through the process and
developed over years until he is ready to finish the race, and finish it healthy. I was steadily
improving: in '94 I was second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, second in San Sebastian, and second in
the Tour Du Pont, and in the first part of '95 I won San Sebastian and won the Tour Du Pont.
But now Och felt I needed to move to another level, I needed to finish the Tour de France, not
just start it. It was time for me to learn exactly what it took to win the biggest stage race in the
My reputation was as a single-day racer: show me the start line and I would win on adrenaline
and anger, chopping off my competitors one by one. I could push myself to a threshold of pain
no one else was willing to match, and I would bite somebody's head off to win a race.
But the Tour was another thing entirely. If you raced that way in the Tour, you would have to
drop out after two days. It required a longer view. The Tour was a matter of mustering the right
resources at the right times, of patiently feeding out your strength at the necessary level, with no
wasted motion or energy. It was a matter of continuing to ride and ride, no matter how
uninspired you felt, when there was no rush of adrenaline left to push you.
If there is a defining characteristic of a man as opposed to a boy, maybe it's patience. In 1995,1
finally gained an understanding of the demanding nature of the Tour and all of its extraordinary
tests and dangers. I finished it, and I finished strong, winning a stage in the closing days. But the
knowledge came at too high a price, and I would just as soon not have learned it the way I
Late in the race, our Motorola teammate, Fabio Casartelli, the 1992 Olympic champion, was
killed on a high-speed descent. On a descent, you ride single file, and if one rider goes down, it
can cause a terrible chain reaction. Fabio didn't crash alone; 20 riders went down
with him. But he hit a curb with the back of his head and fractured his neck and skull.
I went by too fast to see much. A lot of riders were down, and everybody was crouched around
someone lying on the ground, but you see that sort of thing a lot in the Tour. It was only a while
later that I learned via the team radio what had happened: Fabio was dead. When they tell you
something like that, you almost don't believe i t .
It was one of the longest days of my life. Fabio was not only the young hope of Italian cycling,
he was a new husband and a new father. His baby was just a month old.
We had to keep riding, to finish the stage even though we were distraught and sick with shock.
I had known Fabio since I first started racing internationally in '91. He lived right outside of
Como where I kept my apartment, and we had competed against each other at the Barcelona
Olympics in '92, when he won the gold medal. He was a very relaxed, fun-loving man, a little
goofy, a joker. Some of the top Italians were more serious, or macho, but Fabio wasn't like that.
He was all sweetness.
That night we had a Motorola team meeting to discuss whether we should keep riding or not.
We were split. Half of us wanted to quit and go home and cry with our families and friends, and
half of us wanted to keep riding in honor of Fabio. Personally, I wanted to stop; I simply didn't
think I had the heart to ride a bike. It was the first time I had encountered death, and genuine
grief, and I didn't know how to handle it. But then Fabio's wife came to see us, and she said she
wanted us to keep riding, because she felt that was what Fabio would have wanted. So we sat
in the grass behind the hotel, said a few prayers, and decided to stay i n .
The next day the peloton rode in honor of Fabio, and gave our team a ceremonial stage victory.
It was another long, terrible day– eight hours on the bike, with everybody grieving. The peloton
did not race. Instead we rode in quiet formation. It was virtually a funeral procession, and at last
our team rode across the finish line, while, behind us, Fabio's bike was mounted atop the
support car with a black ribbon.
The following morning we began the race again in earnest, and rode into Bordeaux. Next was a
stage into Limoges, and that night, Och came around to our rooms and told the team that Fabio
had had two goals in the Tour: he wanted to finish the race, and he especially wanted to try to
win the stage into Limoges. As soon as Och stopped speaking I knew that if Limoges was the
stage Fabio had wanted to win for himself, now I wanted to win it for him, and that I was going
to finish the race.
About halfway through the next day's stage, I found myself grouped with 25 guys at the front.
Indurain was in the yellow leader's jersey, riding at the back. I did what came most naturally to
me: I attacked.
The problem was, I attacked too early, as usual. I went with 25 miles still to go, and on a
downhill portion. Two things you never do: attack early, and on a downhill. But I went so fast
on that downhill that I had a 30-second lead in a finger-snap. The other riders were completely
taken aback. I could feel them wondering, What's he thinking?
What was I thinking? I had looked back, and saw guys were riding along, with no particular
ambition. It was a hot day, and there was no incentive to pull hard, everyone was just trying to
get closer to the finish line where the tactics would play out. I glanced back, and one guy was
taking a sip of water. I glanced back again. Another guy was fixing his hat. So I took off.
Peoooo. I was gone.
When you have 15 other guys back there from 15 different teams, they'll never get organized.
They'll look at each other and say: You pull. No, you pull! So I went, and I went faster than I'd
ever ridden. It was a tactical punch in the face, and it had nothing to do with strength or ability;
everything depended on the initial shock and separation. It was insane, but it worked.
Nobody got within 55 seconds of me again. The team support car kept coming up and giving
me reports. Henny Kuiper, our team director, would say, "You're thirty seconds up." Then a few
minutes later he'd come alongside again and say, "You're forty-five seconds up."
When he came up the third or fourth time, I said, "Henny, don't come up here anymore. I'm not
getting caught."
"Okay, okay, okay," he said, and faded behind my wheel.
I didn't get caught.
I won by a minute, and I didn't feel a moment's pain. Instead I felt something spiritual; I know
that I rode with a higher purpose that day. Even though I had charged too early, I never suffered
after I broke away. I would like to think that was Fabio's experience too; he simply broke away
and separated from the world. There is no doubt in my mind that there were two riders on that
bike. Fabio was with me.
I felt an emotion at the finish line that I've never experienced again. I felt I was winning for
Fabio and his family and his baby, and for the mourning country of Italy. As I came across the
line I glanced upward and I pointed to the heavens, to Fabio.
After the Tour, Och had a memorial built for Fabio. He commissioned a sculptor from Como to
execute a work in white Carrara marble. The team flew in from all over the world, and we
gathered at the top of the mountain for the placement of the memorial and the dedication
ceremony. The memorial had a sundial on it that shone on three dates and times: his birthday,
the day he won the Olympic Games, and the day he died.
I had learned what it means to ride the Tour de France. It's not about the bike. It's a metaphor
for life, not only the longest race in the world but also the most exalting and heartbreaking and
potentially tragic. It poses every conceivable element to the rider, and more: cold, heat,
mountains, plains, ruts, flat tires, high winds, unspeakably bad luck, unthinkable beauty,
yawning senselessness, and above all a great, deep self-questioning. During our lives we're faced
with so many different elements as well, we experience so many setbacks, and fight such a
hand-to-hand battle with failure, head down in the rain, just trying to stay upright and to have a
little hope. The Tour is not just a bike race, not at all. It is a test. It tests you physically, it tests
you mentally, and it even tests you morally.
I understood that now. There were no shortcuts, I realized. It took years of racing to build up
the mind and body and character, until a rider had logged hundreds of races and thousands of
miles of road. I wouldn't be able to win a Tour de France until I had enough iron in my legs, and
lungs, and brain, and heart. Until I was a man. Fabio had been a man. I was still trying to get
heard the words You have cancer. Real fear came with an unmistakable sensation: it was as
though all my blood started flowing in the wrong direction. My previous fears, fear of not being
liked, fear of being laughed at, fear of losing my money, suddenly seemed like small cowardices.
Everything now stacked up differently: the anxieties of life– a flat tire, losing my career, a traffic
jam–were reprioritized into need versus want, real problem as opposed to minor scare. A bumpy
plane ride was just a bumpy plane ride, it wasn't cancer.
One definition of "human" is as follows: characteristic of people as opposed to God or animals
or machines, especially susceptible to weakness, and therefore showing the qualities of man.
Athletes don't tend to think of themselves in these terms; they're too busy cultivating the aura of
invincibility to admit to being fearful, weak, defenseless, vulnerable, or fallible, and for that
reason neither are they especially kind, considerate, merciful, benign, lenient, or forgiving, to
themselves or anyone around them. But as I sat in my house alone that first night, it was
humbling to be so scared. More than that, it was humanizing.
I wasn't strong enough to break it to my mother that I was sick. Not long after I arrived home
from Dr. Reeves' office, Rick Parker came over because he didn't think I should be alone. I told
Rick that I simply couldn't bear to call my mother with the news. "I don't want to tell her," I
said. Rick offered to do it for me, and I accepted.
There was no gentle way to say it. She had just gotten home from work and was sitting outside
in her garden, reading the paper, when the call came. Rick said, "Linda, Lance is going to need
to talk to you about this himself, but I just want to let you know what's going on. He's been
diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he's having surgery tomorrow at 7 A.M."
My mother said, "No. How can this be?"
Rick said, "I'm sorry, but I think you need to come down here tonight."
My mother began to cry, and Rick tried to comfort her, but he also wanted her to get on a
shuttle to Austin as quickly as possible. My mother changed gears. "Okay," she said. "Okay, I'll
be right there." She hung up without even speaking with me, and immediately threw whatever
she could think of into a small bag and raced to the airport.
After Rick hung up from talking with my mother, I broke down again. Rick calmly talked me
through it. "It's natural for you to cry," he said. "It's even good for you. Lance, this is curable. It's
a speed bump. We need to get on with whipping this thing."
Shored up, I went into my study and I began to make calls to the other people I felt I needed to
tell immediately. I called my friend and Motorola teammate Kevin Livingston, who was in
Europe racing. Kevin was like a younger brother to me; we were so close that we had plans to
get an apartment together in Europe the following season, and I had persuaded him to move to
Austin to train with me. When I reached him in Italy, I still felt spaced out. "I have something to
tell you–something bad has happened."
"What? Did something go wrong with a race?"
"I have cancer."
I wanted to tell Kevin how I felt and how urgently I wanted to see him, but he was in an
apartment with three other members of the U.S. national team, and I didn't want them to know.
So we had to talk in code.
"You know," I said.
He replied, "Yeah. I know."
And that was it, we got off the phone. The very next day, he was on a plane for home.
Next, I reached Bart Knaggs, perhaps my oldest and best friend in Austin, a former cyclist who
was working for a start-up computer-technology company. I found him at his office, where he
was working late, like always. "Bart, I have testicular cancer," I said. Bart stammered, not sure
what to say, and then he said, "Lance, they do wonders with cancer now, and I think if you have
to get it, that's a good one to have."
I said, "I don't know. I'm sitting here alone in my house, man, and I'm really scared."
Bart, typically, entered a search command into his computer, and called up everything there was
to know about the disease. He sat there until late, researching testicular cancer, and printed out
what he found until he had a pile a foot high. He called up clinical trials, studies, and treatment
options, and downloaded it all. Then he gathered it up and drove over to my house. He had to
go to Orlando early the following morning with his fiancee, Barbara, but he came by to tell me
he loved me, and gave me all of the cancer material.
One by one, my friends and family began to arrive. Lisa came, after I paged her; she had been
studying in the library and she was glassy-eyed with shock at the news. Next, Bill Stapleton
arrived with his wife, Laura. Bill was a young attorney for a firm in Austin, and I had chosen
him to represent me because he exuded loyalty. He was an ambling sort outwardly, but he was a
competitor, too, a former Olympic swimmer from the University of Texas who still had the look
of an athlete. When he came in, I fixated on what I was sure was the loss of my career.
"I'm done racing," I said. "I won't need an agent anymore." "Lance, we just need to deal with
this one step at a time," Bill said. "You have no idea what this means, or what's going to
"You don't understand, Bill. I'm not going to have an agent anymore. I'm not going to have any
"Well, I'm not here as an agent, I'm here as your friend. How can I help?"
It was one of those moments when everything shifted. I was obsessing over the fact that I was
going to lose my career, when there were more important things to attend t o .
"You can pick up my mother at the airport," I said.
Bill and Laura immediately got up from the sofa and drove to the airport to get my mother. I
was just as glad not to meet her flight, because as soon as she saw Bill, she broke down in tears
again. "This is my baby," she told Bill and Laura. "How could this happen? What are we going
to do?" But during the drive to my house, my mother collected herself. She was born without an
ounce of self-pity, and by the time she reached my driveway she was strong again. As soon as
she walked in the house, I met her in the center of the living room and gave her a bear hug.
"We're going to be okay," my mother said into my ear. "This isn't going to get us. We've had too
many things to deal with. This is one thing that won't happen. Don't even try this with me."
We both cried a little then, but not for very long, because there was too much to discuss. I sat
down with my friends and my mother, and explained to them what the diagnosis from Dr.
Reeves was. There were some issues to go over and some decisions to be made, and we didn't
have much time, because I was scheduled for surgery at 7 A.M. I pulled out the X ray that I'd
brought home from Dr. Reeves, and showed it to everybody. You could see the tumors, like
white golf balls, floating in my lungs.
I was concerned about keeping the illness quiet until I'd had time to tell my sponsors and
teammates. While I continued to talk to my mother, Bill called the hospital and asked that my
diagnosis be kept confidential and that I be checked in under an assumed name. Also, we had to
tell my sponsors, Nike, Giro, Oakley, and Milton-Bradley, as well as the Cofidis organization,
and it would be necessary to hold a press conference. But first and foremost I had to tell the
people who were closest to me, friends like Och, and Chris, and my teammates, and most of
them were scattered overseas and difficult to reach.
Everyone reacted differently to the news; some people stuttered, and some tried to reassure me,
but what all of my friends had in common was their urge to come to Austin as quickly as
possible. Och was at home in Wisconsin having dinner when I reached him, and his reaction
was, in retrospect, pure him.
"Are you sitting down?" I asked.
"What's going on?"
"I've got cancer."
"Okay. What does that mean?"
"It means I've got testicular cancer and I'm having surgery tomorrow."
"All right, let me think about this," Och said, calmly. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Finally, it was time to go to bed. The funny thing was, I slept deeply that night. I went into a
state of absolutely perfect rest, as if I was getting ready for a big competition. If I had a tough
race in front of me I always made sure to get the optimum amount of sleep, and this was no
different, I suppose. On some unconscious level, I wanted to be in absolutely peak form for
what I would be faced with in the coming days.
The next morning, I reported to the hospital at 5. I drove myself there, with my mother in the
passenger seat, and I walked through the entrance in a baggy sweatsuit to begin life as a cancer
patient. First came a series of basic tests, things like MRIs and blood work. I had a faint hope
that the doctors would do all their tests and tell me they had been wrong, that my illness wasn't
that serious. But those words didn't come.
I had never stayed overnight in a hospital, and I didn't know about things like registration, so I
hadn't even brought my wallet. I guess I was always too busy throwing away my crutches and
taking out my own stitches. I looked at my mother–and she immediately volunteered to take
care of the paperwork. While I was having blood tests done, she filled out the stack of forms the
hospital required.
I was in surgery and recovery for about three hours. It seemed like an eternity to my mother,
who sat in my hospital room with Bill Sta-pleton and waited for me to come back. Dr. Reeves
came by and told her that it had gone well, they had removed the tumor with no problem. Then
Och arrived. True to his word, he had gotten on an early-morning plane for Austin. While I was
still in surgery, my mom filled Och in on what was happening. She said she was determined that
I was going to be okay, as if the sheer force of her will could make things all right.
Finally, they wheeled me back to my room. I was still foggy from the anesthesia, but I was alert
enough to talk to Och as he leaned over my bed. "I'm going to beat this thing, whatever it is," I
The hospital kept me overnight, and my mother stayed with me, sleeping on a small sofa.
Neither of us rested well. The aftermath of the surgery was very painful–the incision was long
and deep and in a tender place, and every time my mother heard my sheets rustle, she would
jump up and come to my bedside to make sure I was all right. I was hooked up to an IV, and
when I had to go to the bathroom she helped me out of bed and wheeled the pole for me while I
limped across the room, and then she helped me back to bed. The hospital bed had a plastic
cover over the mattress, and it made me sweat; I woke up every couple of hours to find the
sheets under my back were soaking wet, but she would dry me off.
The next morning, Dr. Youman came in to give me the initial results of the pathology reports
and blood work. I was still clinging to my notion that somehow the cancer might not be as bad
as we'd thought, until Dr. Youman began to tick off the numbers. He said it appeared from the
biopsy and the blood tests that the cancer was spreading rapidly. It was typical of testicular
cancer to move up the blood line into the lymph glands, and they had discovered some in my
In the 24 hours since I'd first been diagnosed, I'd done as much homework as I could. I knew
oncologists broke testicular cancer down into three stages: in stage one, the cancer was confined
to the testicles and patients had excellent prognoses; in stage two, the cancer had moved into
the abdominal lymph nodes; and in stage three, it had spread to vital organs, such as the lungs.
The tests showed that I was stage three, with three different cancers in my body, the most
malignant of which was choriocarcinoma, a very aggressive, blood-borne type that was difficult
to arrest.
My chemo treatments would begin in a week, via a Grosjean catheter implanted in my chest,
and they would last for three months. I would require so many blood tests and intravenous drugs
that it was impractical to use standard individual IV needles, so the Grosjean catheter was
unavoidable. It was frightening to look at, bulging under my skin, and the opening in my chest
seemed unnatural, almost like a gill-
There was another piece of business to discuss: I would be at least temporarily sterile. My first
round of chemotherapy was scheduled for the following week, and Youman advised me to bank
as much sperm as possible before then. It was the first time the subject of sterility had come up,
and I was taken aback. Youman explained that some chemotherapy patients recovered their
virility, and some did not; studies showed about a 50-percent return to normalcy after a year.
There was a sperm bank two hours away in San Antonio, and Youman recommended I go
That night, before we came home from the hospital, my mother went by the oncology unit and
picked up all the supplies for my catheter, and my prescriptions for anti-nausea medications, and
more literature on testicular cancer. If you've never been to an oncology unit, let me tell you–it
can be unsettling. She saw people wrapped in blankets, with no hair, hooked up every which
way to IVs, looking pale and deathly sick. My mother gazed around the unit as she waited for
the supplies. When they came, she piled it all into a large canvas bag that became our traveling
cancer kit, and made her way back to my room. She said, "Son, I just want to let you know that
when you go for your treatment, it's not a pleasant sight. But I want you to keep one thing in
mind. They're all there for the same reason you are: to get well."
And then she took me home.
in the mirror–and I stifled a scream. My catheter had a huge blood clot in it and my chest was
swollen and caked with blood. I went back into the bedroom and showed Lisa, who stared at it,
mute with horror. I yelled for my mother. "Mom, could you come in here!" I said. My mother
came racing into my room and examined the catheter. She didn't panic; she just got a washcloth
and calmly cleaned it out, and called the hospital. A nurse explained to her that it wasn't
uncommon for catheters to clot, and went through a procedure with her for how to prevent it
from being infected. But it still looked awful.
My mother hung up and ran to the store, and when she came back she had a box of Band-Aids
that glowed in the dark. She put one on the catheter, and that got Lisa and me to laugh. Next,
she reached Dr. Youman on the phone. She said, "This catheter is not looking good. I've tried to
clean it as much as I can, but maybe we should have it taken out."
Dr. Youman said, "Well, don't do anything yet, because I've decided Lance needs to move up
his first chemotherapy treatment. He starts Monday at one o'clock."
"Why?" my mother asked.
I took the phone. Dr. Youman explained that more results had come in from the pathology
reports and blood work, and they were worrisome. In a mere 24 hours, the cancer had
progressed. Oncologists use something called blood markers to track the progress of the disease:
the levels of various proteins in your blood such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and
alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) indicate how much cancer is in the body. My blood counts had risen, in
a day.
The cancer was not just spreading, it was galloping, and Youman no longer thought I could
afford to wait a week for chemo. I should begin treatment directly, because if the cancer was
moving that quickly, every day might count.
I hung up the phone, dispirited. But there was no time to brood; I would have one chance and
one chance only to go to the sperm bank in San Antonio: that very afternoon. "This is pathetic,"
I said to my mother, disgustedly.
The ride to San Antonio was grim. The only thing that relieved the tension was that Kevin
Livingston had come home, and he made the trip with me for moral support. I was glad to see
him; he has an open face and vivid blue eyes under his cropped black hair, and he always looks
like he's on the verge of laughing. It was hard to be in a bad mood around him. We got more
help, too: a young man named Cord Shiflet, the son of my architect and friend David Shiflet,
offered to drive us.
I sat in the back seat silently as the miles went by, with one nervous thought after another
running through my mind. I would have only one chance to bank. I might not be able to have
children. I was going to have my first chemo treatment. Would it make me sick?
Finally we arrived at the medical office in San Antonio. Cord and Kevin sat with my mother in
the waiting area while a staff nurse escorted me into a private room, and Kevin managed to
crack a bad joke, trying to break the terrible mood. "Hey, Lance, you need a magazine?" he said.
I grinned, weakly.
I was shown into a room with a lounge chair, a sort of recliner. The lighting was dim, an
attempt at ambiance, I guessed. On a small table there was a stack of, yes, magazines. Porn, I
saw, disgusted. I hobbled over to the chair, and sighed heavily, and nearly cried. I was in severe
pain; the cut from the surgery was right at the top of my groin and met my abdomen. I was
depressed and falling apart emotionally from the shock of the diagnosis, and now I was
supposed to summon an erection? There was no way. As I lay in the chair, I thought, This isn't
the way it was supposed to happen. Conceiving a child was supposed to be wreathed in hope,
not this sad, solitary, desperate procedure.
I wanted to be a father–quite badly–but I had always assumed it would happen when I was in
love. In my early 20s, I'd gone through romantic relationships one after the other. I'd date a
woman for a while, and then burn out after just a few months, and stray, and break it off. I dated
a girl I'd gone to high school with, I dated a model from Holland, but I was never in a
relationship for more than a year. My teammates teasingly named me FedEx for the speed with
which I changed girlfriends. The FedEx slogan was "When you absolutely, positively have to
have it–overnight." I wasn't married, I had no ties, and it wasn't the deepest period of my life.
With Lisa Shiels, though, things were different. By the time I was diagnosed we were very
close. She was a bright and serious-minded young woman who was absorbed in her classes at
Texas, and the idea of marriage and kids with her had certainly occurred to me. I wasn't sure we
were right for each other long-term, but I knew I wanted to be a husband, and I knew, too, that
I wanted to be a better father than the ones I had encountered.
I had no choice; I closed my eyes and I did what I had to do.
Out in the waiting room, my mother and my two friends sat, silently. I learned later that while
they were sitting there, my mother suddenly turned to Cord and Kevin and said to them, almost
angrily, "Now, you boys listen to me. When he comes out, I don't want to hear one word from
you. Not one word!" She knew. Somehow, she knew that this was one of the most distressing
and utterly cheerless experiences of my life.
When it was over, I came out and handed the vial to a doctor. Cord and Kevin were quiet. I
filled out some papers, hastily, and told the nurses I would send the rest of the information in
later. I just wanted to get out of there. But as we were leaving, the doctor came back out.
"It's a very low count," he said.
The doctor explained that my sperm count was only about a third of what it should have been; it
seemed the cancer had already affected my reproductive capacity. Now the chemo would take
its toll, too.
The drive on the way back was even grimmer than on the way down. I don't even remember if
we ate. I talked to Kevin and Cord about the magazines. "Can you believe they give you that
stuff to look at?" I said. Kevin and Cord were great; they acted like it was no big deal, nothing
to be embarrassed about, just a very sensible errand, something that had to be done. I was
appreciative, and I took my cue from them; it was the last time I was self-conscious about the
nature of my illness.
from the surgery. The anesthesia made me woozy, and the incision was excruciating. I
rested and watched football while my mother cooked for me, and we both read up on cancer,
exhaustively. "No stone unturned," my mother said. In between our reading sessions, we talked
about what to do. "How are we going to get rid of this stuff?" I asked her. We acted as if we
could somehow formulate a plan to beat it, like we had trained in the old days.
That first week my mother picked up all of my prescriptions, collated my medical records,
scoured bookstores for cancer material, and organized my schedule. She bought me a journal to
keep notes in and a visitors' book to keep track of who came to see me. She would schedule my
friends in staggered fashion, so that I would never feel too alone. We called it the "community
calendar," and I had revolving vision its, never too many at one time, but never so few as to
leave me time to get low, either.
She drew up a three-month calendar to keep track of my chemotherapy treatments, and made
lists of my medications and at what time I should take each one. She ran my illness as if it was a
project and she was the project manager. She had colored pencils, charts, and timelines. To her,
organization and knowledge would facilitate a cure.
She made an appointment with a nutritionist. I limped off the couch and we drove over, and the
nutritionist gave us a guideline for fighting cancer and a list of foods compatible with the
chemotherapy drugs: a lot of free-range chicken, broccoli, no cheeses or other fats, and a lot of
vitamin C to help combat the toxins of chemo. Immediately, my mother began steaming huge
bowls of broccoli for me.
But beneath all of the manic activity, I could tell that my mother was struggling. When she
talked to other members of our family on the phone, I could hear a tremor in her voice, and
finally she quit calling them when I was around. She tried not to show me all that she felt, but I
knew that at night she would go into her room and cry.
On Monday morning, it was time to go public. I held a news conference to announce that I was
ill and would not be cycling. Everyone was there, Bill, Lisa, my mother, and several sponsors,
and there was a conference call for reporters from Europe as well. Also on the phone were
representatives from Cofidis, the French team I was supposed to join in the upcoming season.
The room was filled with cameras, and I had to deliver a prepared speech. There was an audible
murmur when I said the word "cancer," and I could see the shock and the disbelief on the faces
of the reporters and cameramen. A gentleman from Cofidis chimed in on the phone: they
pledged their total support in helping me get through the illness and back on the bike.
"I'm determined to fight this disease," I concluded. "And I will win."

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn