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But Tough People Do.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly announces race.

Ever hear the saying, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do"? It's true. Look at Lance Armstrong.

Today Armstrong and his Postal Team destroyed their competition in the team time trial of the 100th Tour de France. The top 7 riders are on the U.S. Postal Team. Total domination. Total teamwork, total perfection. At this early stage of the game it already looks good for Armstrong. And since him and his team have demonstrated the ability to overcome adversity, it looks like Armstrong and his Postal Team can overcome anything. They've done it before.

If you read Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike" then you know the incredible story of his return from cancer.

You know that the people who made up U.S. Postal Team never let Lance down, even when he was in the hospital with brain tumors and cancer in his lungs and testicles. His original team, Team Cofidis, a French team, abandoned him when he was sick. They canceled his health insurance. They left him alone, abandoned, sick and dying with little or no hope.

I remember talking to Frankie Andreu after he went to see Lance in the hospital in Indiana. I asked Frankie, "How is Lance anyway?" Frankie said "He's not good, he has tumors in his brain. He won't race again, he may not even make it. That's why I went, it might be the last time I see him. He looked terrible." I couldn't believe it. But U.S. Postal did not abandon him. The key people around him never abandoned him. His friends, his believers.

They did not do it because they thought there was a chance Lance would survive and win the Tour again. They did not do it to protect their investment. They did it selflessly. They had empathy and knew what it would be like to be a young man, once a great hero on top of the world, now a sick, bald, dying boy with no testicles and no health insurance and no future but a headstone. They didn't leave him. The Oakley sunglass company threatened to switch the health insurance of their entire company if they refused to grant Lance coverage. Jim Jannard at Oakley personally saw to it that Lance would get the health coverage he needed. Jim even sent Lance a little remote control racecar to play with while he was recovering. Or dying. Jim at Oakley never gave up on Lance.

So now Lance is poised for five. He was on the bottom of the world and he could have very well died. Or, he could have tried to come back to cycling and not done very well, fading into a less famous role as a cancer survivor advocate and maybe cycling commentator. To me, the story would be only slightly less compelling.

There is something magical about coming from behind, way behind, to make good. It is better than just doing it the easy way. Of course, it doesn't seem that way at the time when everything sucks. It only seems that way when you are on the podium in Paris and you can say, "Man, I'm glad I stuck with this." I doubt the guys on Postal walked out of the hospital after visiting Lance saying, "Oh, I think he'll win the Tour again someday- he's amazing, nothing keeps him down. I'm sticking with him." It is more likely they came out of the hospital thinking something like "God, that poor guy, if I were in his position I would want someone to stand by me and not abandon me." So they did.

Do you think that has anything to do with how well Lance has been doing? I do. I think Lance felt the heat of a thousand suns when people stood by him. I think his life was renewed and he intended to repay people's faith in him, even in the darkest hours.

On those horrible, leg searing climbs after 100 miles and five hours in the saddle even the greatest riders in the world are on edge. Their legs hurt. Their bodies are tired and painful. Their mind begins to suggest that second is good enough. And that is the instant they sit back on their seat and Lance rides away. Every year for the past four years. Probably again this year.

Why doesn't Lance give in? Inside his heart and soul, inside the place of his mind and character where normal riders carry the little switch that says "God, this is too hard, enough- second is still pretty good." Lance carries something else. Maybe it is something like this: "I am alive. I have another chance. I have people behind me not just at the finish line when I win but when I am in bed dying too. The same people. Today I will not sit down. I will never sit down. Those people help make me strong. Second is not good enough for me or them."

The power of that is why Lance wins the Tour de France. Plain and simple. Over and over. It is the only reason. It is the reason he prepares so well, trains so hard, and can race so intensely. It is unlikely anyone will ever beat him.

The universal truth of Lance's success is, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do." It is not only true of the man who rides the mountains like they were flat roads, it is also true of the people who never gave up on him. Even in the darkest hours.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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