ONE MORE HILL TO CLIMB
Compiled By MIKE FORDE and BRUCE DIAMOND
May 1, 2005 -- LAST month, larger-than-life Lance Armstrong announced his intention to retire at the conclusion of the Tour de France this July.
The 33-year-old from Dallas won the world's most grueling sporting event - a three week test of endurance and discipline that has been likened to running 20 marathons in 20 days - for the sixth consecutive time last summer, pedaling himself onto unequaled terrain in the history of competitive cycling.
Armstrong cemented his place in legend long before that, overcoming testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain back in 1996. He has since turned his stardom into a perch, becoming one of the world's most outspoken advocates for cancer research, raising millions through his foundation and even spearheading a fashion trend last year through sales of a now-ubiquitous yellow bracelet.
As the onetime "Golden Boy of American Cycling" moves through the paces of his heralded training regimen this spring, people the world over are already wondering whether he has the fire to win a seventh consecutive Tour.
No matter the outcome, one thing already is irrefutable: Lance Armstrong owns a place in the pantheon of great American athletes.
On surviving cancer:
"You always look back to 1996 and you realize that crash on Luz-Ardiden or a little cycle cross into Gap is not nearly as bad as sitting in a hospital room in Indianapolis. Drawing on that experience helps and is perhaps one of the secrets to winning the Tour."
On steroid allegations:
"What am I on? I'm on my bike.
"On training philosophy:
"The purpose is to push your threshold up and I believe the only way to push it up is to train below it. If you train above it, ultimately you're going to push the threshold down."
"You have to have a basic gift and then it's how you work with that gift, how you shape it, the work that you do, the intensity you do it in and then the motivation for the race. I'm very motivated for this race [Tour de France]. It's everything."
"I think the bike is the best piece of exercise equipment known to man. I hope it continues to thrive and I hope the average citizen realizes that."
"It's the love of the job, the thrill of victory and the fear of losing. ... I mean if I lost one I could go home and crack open a cold beer and live with it, but it would be hard to look across the table at teammates, sponsors, fans, and say 'I'm sorry'."
Trains virtually every day of the year from 2-8 hours per day. During winters, spends hour per day, three days per week in gym. Does some jogging on mountain bike trails but won't swim for fear of "bulking up." Focus is to raise point, called aerobic threshold, where he begins building up lactic acid in muscles. Says aerobic training is what sets him apart from rest of pack.
Estimates he's on his bike 355 days of each year.
Trains with power meter computer that mounts to handlebars and links to bike's rear hub: tracks speed, distance, pedal cadence (rpm) and energy (watts) he generates during 5-7 hour "endurance rides" of 100-130 miles. Rides two hours on "recovery days." Uploads data from bike to computer, and longtime trainer Chris Carmichael analyzes and modifies regimen for next day.
Pioneered trend of regularly pre-riding mountain and time trial stages of Tour de France each year to familiarize himself with pitches and turns of each road. Focuses on altitude training during most of June, riding in mountains with peaks as high as 6,000 feet.
Endurance cycling is a team sport and Armstrong's teammates are working for him throughout grueling stage races such as the 2,130-mile Tour de France, preventing another team from defeating them rather than attempting to win races on their own.
Armstrong's eight teammates serve as domestiques during the three-week race, surrounding him on road to protect and shield him from the wind, keeping him out of trouble and near front of the pack. As race moves into unforgiving mountain stage in second week, Armstrong's teammates help him to mount his attack.
Team members alternate turns working at the front and giving each other a rest. If a competing star tries to pull away from the pack (the peloton), they must be ready to chase him down, force him to ride faster, expending more energy that will make it more difficult for him to recover at a later stage. If the team leader crashes, the entire team stops, waits for him to get up and helps him return to the peloton.
Bigger, stronger riders who excel in time trials support Armstrong during early climbs of each day in the mountains, enabling him to conserve energy and stay near front of peloton. The team's climbing specialists set the pace for final climb of each day, lining up in front of Armstrong and riding as fast as they can. One by one, they give it all they can muster, then veer off as their teammates continue toward summit. As a group, they force rivals to maintain their pace while Armstrong waits for the proper moment to launch an offensive.
Armstrong also has perfected the technique of ascending steep hills in smaller gears, pedaling faster instead of harder. Method enables him to power his climbs with aerobic energy and avoid overtaxing his muscles and succumbing to burning lactic acid buildup.
Obsessed & Blessed
Heart is about one third larger than that of the average adult male. Resting heart rate is 32-34; maximum heart rate is 201. Road training heart rate average is 124-128; time trial heart rate is 188-192.
Lungs have abnormally large capacity for oxygen.
Has developed aerobic abilities twice that of average human male, measured in test called VO2Max.
Longer-than-average thigh bones enable him to strike pedals with greater-than-average force.
Spends hours in uncomfortable "hypoxic tent," a room outfitted with generator that reduces level of oxygen in air from 20.9 to 12 - simulates air at altitudes as high as 9,000 feet and increases red blood cells by four ounces; can give Armstrong a 1- to 3-percent edge over competitors.
Born Sept. 18 in Plano, Texas. Never knew his father, whom he calls "the DNA donor." Has written, "The main thing you have to know about my childhood is that I never had a real father, but I never sat around wishing for one, either. ... I've never had a single conversation with my mother about him."
Wins Kids Iron Triathlon and later begins entering the combined swimming, biking and running events for money. Wins $20,000 two years later at age 15.
As high school senior, qualifies to train with U.S. Olympic team.
Following Olympics, signs with team Motorola.
Captures 10 titles in first season as professional en route to becoming World Road Race champion at age 21. Wins first Tour de France stage win, but quits race in toughest mountain stage. (Would later fail to finish Tour in 1994 and 1996). Wins $1 million Thrift Drug Triple Crown.
Finishes Tour de France 36th overall and dedicates stage victory to teammate Fabio Casartelli, killed earlier in race after crashing on descent of Col de Portet d'Aspet.Wins include San Sebastian Classic. Ends year ranked No. 15.
Another promising season turns sour when respiratory infection forces him to pull out of Tour de France. At Atlanta Olympics, has lackluster finishes in road race (12th) and time trial (sixth). October brings life-altering news when he is diagnosed with testicular cancer that has spread to his lungs and brain. Doctors give Armstrong a 50-50 chance of survival. Undergoes three operations and chemotherapy; establishes Lance Armstrong Foundation to promote cancer research.
Declared cancer free and resumes training, despite exhaustion, depression and knowledge that he may never again cycle competitively. "I used to ride my bike to make a living," he says. "Now, I just want to live so that I can ride." Signs with US Postal Service team on Oct. 16.
Trains rigorously, finishes 15th in grueling five-day Ruta del Sol in Spain, but drops out of Paris-Nice race and tells associates he's quitting. Travels to Boone, N.C., with trainer Chris Carmichael in early April and has an epiphany while riding in hills; pledges to return and train harder than ever. In May, marries Kristin Richard of Austin. Wins Tour of Luxembourg, his first race back in Europe.
Focuses entirely on Tour de France and trains ferociously in Alps and Pyrenees. Defeats favored rivals Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantini and becomes only second U.S. rider (after Greg LeMond) to win world's greatest bicycle race. In October Kristin gives birth to first child, Luke, conceived via in vitro fertilization. Finishes year ranked No. 7 in world.
Publishes best-selling autobiography, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life." Crashes while training for Sydney Olympics, fracturing C7 vertebra - but still captures bronze in individual time trial.
Wins Tour of Switzerland and third straight Tour de France. Kristin Armstrong gives birth to twins, Grace and Isabelle, in November.
In February, announces that he and Kristin are separating after 41/2 years of marriage. Wins second straight Dauphine Libere. Overcomes two crashes and severe dehydration to win fifth consecutive Tour de France, defeating Ullrich (who crashed in final time trial) by margin of just over one minute; matches record set by Spain's Miguel Indurain between 1991-95. "This tour took a lot out of me," he says after race. "This year was not acceptable. I don't plan on being this vulnerable next year; I really don't."
US Postal withdraws sponsorship from Armstrong's team. Divorces Kristin and starts highly publicized relationship with singer Sheryl Crow. Blows away Tour de France field, winning six stages for record-setting sixth-straight yellow jersey.
Signs two-year contract to race for Discovery Channel team. On April 18, 33-year-old ends months of speculation by announcing he is retiring after conclusion of Tour de France, which ends July 24. "Ultimately, athletes have to retire," he says. "The body doesn't just keep going and going."
Trainer Chris Carmichael has helped Armstrong to become one of the world's best-conditioned athletes; girlfriend Sheryl Crow has enhanced his star appeal.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation reports that as of late March, more than 40 million LIVESTRONG bracelets have been purchased. LAF sells an average of 125,000 bracelets per day at www.laf.org and www.wearyellow.com (they also are available at a number of retailers). And his appearance with Sheryl Crow on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in February resulted in 952,300 bands being sold in a 24-hour period. Proceeds of the bands, which sell for $1, benefit LAF's programs that help people with cancer live strong. The bands are yellow, the LAF Web site explains, because yellow is the color of hope, courage, inspiration and perseverance.