Work in Sports
Victory on the home front
Austin, Texas, celebrates Tour win by hometown hero
AUSTIN, Texas (CNNSI.com) -- Austin, your French needs excusing.
As hometown hero Lance Armstrong dominated his second straight Tour de France, Texans were tinkering with the language of love for their own Southwestern celebration.
Signs around town shout "Vive Le Lance" and "Lance de Triomphe." For Austin, which has followed the cyclist's rise from the abyss of grueling cancer treatments, Armstrong's second victory proved 1999 was not a fluke.
"Last year people said he won a Tour without the top riders," said Eric Loberg, standing outside a bicycle shop on July 23 looking for a deal on a used ride.
"Well, they were in it this year and they dropped out," he said, referring to Italian star Marco Pantani, who tried to push Armstrong but pulled out of the race in the final week.
Switzerland's Alex Zulle, who was also expected to contend for the lead, dropped out of the race one day after Pantani.
Normally dominated by the burnt orange of the University of Texas and scorched-brown of lawns killed by the oppressive summer heat, Armstrong's hometown developed a taste for yellow as he pedaled toward the race's finish. Armstrong crossed the finish line in Paris with a lead of six minutes, two seconds over second-place finisher Jan Ullrich of Germany.
Most of the posters and banners in town are yellow, the signature color of the Tour's leader. Fans were encouraged to wear yellow to post-race celebrations in city pubs.
Austin city officials are planning a victory parade, although plans for July 28 have been postponed until sometime this fall to fit Armstrong's training schedule for the Olympics.
Corbett Wood, who races mountain bikes, said he has avoided the temptation to buy a yellow cycling jersey.
"I don't think I deserve to wear one yet," Wood said. "It's not really human what he [Armstrong] does."
Cycling fans said they never doubted Armstrong could hold the lead after an extraordinary charge early in the mountain stages pushed him to the front of the pack.
"That's where he took it over," said Shannon Smith, who also races mountain bikes. "It was amazing."
Meanwhile, some of the Texans took the celebration to Armstrong.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, himself a testicular cancer survivor, was at the finish line in Paris. Dr. Craig Nichols, the oncologist Armstrong credits with saving his life, was also in attendance for the Tour's close.
"Lance ... is truly a role model of strength and determination for all of us to follow," Watson said.
The payoff for Armstrong's cancer foundation and his personal bank account promises to grow.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation raised about $1.4 million in 1999 and has already reached the $2 million mark in 2000. Most of the money goes toward medical research grants. Such a drastic leap wouldn't have been possible without Armstrong's success in France, foundation director Karl Haussmann said.
"[Lance] has given us the perfect opportunity to spread our message all over the world," Haussmann said.
Before his first Tour victory, Armstrong earned about $500,000 from his U.S. Postal Service team contract and endorsements. Since then, he has re-signed with team for $2 million a year and his reported total income for 2000 will be in the $7 million range. He now commands $100,000 per speaking engagement.