Posted: Thursday July 7, 2005 1:36PM; Updated: Thursday July 7, 2005 1:36PM
Is Lance Armstrong too good for his own good?
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Lance Armstrong has the lead again in the Tour de France. Or so I've read. I haven't actually seen the race. Or a clip that meant anything to me. All I've seen is a shot of Lance in that yellow jersey. Just like last year, and all the years before.
For much of July I'm going to feel like I'm living in the 1920s. And it's not because I'm wearing a fedora, or going to a speakeasy after work. It's because of Lance Armstrong. He sets all us regular followers of sports back several decades.
Except for the dedicated cycling fans, the folks who have the Outdoor Life Network programmed into the favorite channels on their remote, we're going to be experiencing the phenomenon of Lance Armstrong the way sports fans back in the '20s experienced Babe Ruth. We can read newspaper and magazine stories about Lance. We can read books about Lance. We can talk about Lance to our friends and neighbors. We will even see images of Lance moving in short clips that are the modern equivalent of the short newsreel clips that used to run before the Sunday matinee. All we need is a shot of Lance taking pepper with the Gas House Gang. Actually, we're further back than the '20s. Fans in those days, at least, could listen to broadcasts of Ruth on the radio, or see him at Yankee Stadium and thus bear witness to some moment that demonstrated his greatness. With Lance, even if we drop a couple grand to go see him in France, all we'll get is a blur that goes by while we're eating cheese on the roadside.
How strange is it that so many of us have never seen this great athlete perform?
You could argue that Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong would finish 1-2 in a list of the most impressive sports figures of the last 25 years. They're both Top 10 material, to be sure.
And yet compare the number of memorable moments they have given us. Jordan has:
1) The game-winning jumper against Georgetown in the NCAAs
2) The foul-line dunk in the All-Star contest
3) The shot over Craig Ehlo
4) The shrug after the 3-pointers against the Blazers.
5) The fever game against the Jazz
6) The championship-winning shot over Bryon Russell
And if you're any kind of basketball fan, you could take that list out to 50, no problem. Lance's memorable moments include:
I tried to watch the last stage of last year's Tour, in search of such a moment. But of course by that last stage Lance had the race well in hand. The only tension that remained was whether he would accidentally hit a TV truck as he cruised the last mile. This isn't criticizing Armstrong or diminishing his achievements. His comeback from cancer is an inspiration. His foundation and the sales of Livestrong bracelets has raised $85 million. He has seven consecutive victories in his sport's biggest event. He dates a rock star. And it's a tribute to Armstrong that people who previously cared nothing about cycling now talk about "time trials" and "mountain stages" and "Jan Ullrich." It also tells you how many lives have been affected by cancer -- nearly everyone's, either directly or indirectly. But the other day I was looking at a map of the course and I was thinking, "what exactly am I supposed to do with this?" Tell me if guy wins -- everything else I don't really get.
Here's my wish for Lance: win his seventh Tour de France, but win it by one second. Give us a "did you see" moment, instead of a "did you hear" moment -- something the biggest cycling neophyte can immediately comprehend. Come down the stretch. Catch another cyclist from behind and nose him out as you cross the tape. And if possible, have that person on the other bicycle be Craig Ehlo.