Lance Armstrong is more than a bicyclist now, more than an athlete. He's become a kind of hope machine. About 300 pieces of mail find their way to him each week. They come from people who are suddenly pale-yellow versions of themselves, half gone from chemo, scared to die. They see a man who once sat around the same chemo rooms as theirs, but now he's winning stages on the tops of Alps. They read his book, plug into his story, let him block the wind. He welcomes it. He wants to lead them. He calls it "the obligation of the cured." And every time he rides, he feels like they ride with him.
Text by Rick Reilly
Issue date: December 16, 2002
Video Box: Lance Armstrong named SI Sportsman of the Year
After becoming the first American to win the Tour de France four times and the fourth cyclist to win four in a row, Lance Armstrong spoke about his legacy. "There's never been a Tour de France victory by a cancer survivor before me," he said. "That's what I'd like to be remembered for." Forgetting what Armstrong has achieved since returning to cycling after a battle with testicular cancer would be impossible, seeing as he has come to completely dominate his sport's most celebrated competition. The 31-year-old Texan's Tour performances in the past three years have been so strong, in fact, that 2002 race officials shifted most of the mountain stages to the end in an effort to increase the drama. But even a more challenging course could not keep Armstrong from reaching his goal. With the help of his U.S. Postal Service teammates, Lance made his customary surge in the Pyrenees on the final climb to La Mongie, winning the first mountain leg and the yellow jersey, which he never relinquished. Armstrong went on to win the Tour by seven minutes and 17 seconds, the second-biggest winning margin of his career, and no other rider finished within 13 minutes of his total time. With the victory, Lance surpassed Greg LeMond as the most successful American cyclist in the history of the Tour and is now one win shy of the record of five titles, shared by four riders. And Lance doesn't plan to stop there. He hopes to ride into history in 2004 by becoming the Tour's first six-time winner. "There are no limits for Armstrong, and he will be around a long time," said five-time Tour champion Eddy Merckx. "He's a great racer and a great person."