It is kind of a popular sentiment: When your heroes are larger than life, you might not really want to get to know them. When you get to know your heroes, there is a chance they may not live up to their public image. When you get to know them, you realize that they are human. They make mistakes, they have trouble with their relationships, they say awkward things, they crunch their car in the parking lot at the mall, they get a bad haircut…in other words; they become human when you get close to them.
For a long time, Lance Armstrong has been one of my heroes. When he first came back from cancer, we all watched with amazement and hoped for the underdog. We all knew someone who had been touched by the disease, and we wanted him to conquer because not everyone else had. He was a hero and everyone was a fan in those early days of Comeback 1.0.
In 1999, I was at the Tour de France. Trek was doing a mountain bike intro nearby, and we decided to take the journalists to the race. Not because we somehow knew what was going to happen that day, but because those who say they are not really interested in the Tour de France, have just not yet been there. It is, of course, the single greatest sporting spectacle in the world. We were at the summit of the Galibier that day in 1999, when Lance came over with the front group and then went on to put the race away on the Sestriere. I was in awe of the display. I immediately called the road bike brand manager at Trek and told him, “I know this is crazy, but I think he can win this.” How silly my shock sounds now, right?
People who follow cycling like to rooti for the underdog. So, it was natural for everyone to root for Lance when he was the comeback kid. It was also in a lot of cycling fans' nature to turn against him when he became uber successful. Trust me, even people who say they are not fans now, were fans back then.
For me, he never fell from being one of my hero’s. When he won more, he just became more of a hero. I loved to see him ride at the front of the group all the time and wait for his competitors to wilt. I loved to see him attack. I loved to see him chase back after being knocked down. It was always exciting and fun.
I also know that during all of this, he was doing everything that he could to help kick the proverbial butt of cancer as fast as he could. Trying to help millions of people around the world. He was helping his foundation and seeing cancer victims in person around the world. He retired, and some people were glad. I was thankful that I got see him race, and I understood that it could not go on forever.
Then Comeback 2.0 came along. I was excited because I got to see the hero in action again. Sure, he fell down a lot more. Sure, he suffered injuries. Sure he had a run of bad luck that didn't strike before. Sure it was not always graceful. But he was still badass and he still remains one of my cycling heroes.
There are a lot of people in the cycling world who now claim that he was never their hero. There are also people out there debating if Lance’s legacy changed cycling and the cycling world. I do not really care to get involved with that debate. I will leave that for others to spend too much time on.
I do know, that I have been lucky to get to know one of my heroes. Not as well as I would like to, but I am fortunate nonetheless to have gotten to know him the small amount that I do.
At the beginning of this, I talked about the dangers of getting to know your heroes and having the veneer stripped away. For me, getting to know him and watching a rough Comeback 2.0 did not change anything.
With Lance announcing his retirement for the final time, Comeback 2.0 comes to an end. I do not know what Lance will do next, but I know that whatever he does will involve helping as many cancer victims as he can.
I am a fan.