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Tour of Duty
Rick Reilly
August 02, 2004
It was pudding, this sixth Tour de France win for Lance Armstrong. Easy as a Sunday ride with your arthritic aunt. He could've won it while doing his taxes.
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August 02, 2004

Tour Of Duty

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And he should quit—except his three kids, back in Austin with his former wife, Kristin, are now all old enough to realize that the man on TV in the pretty yellow shirt is Daddy. Except Crow is now so hooked on his sport that she moaned when it was over, "I can't believe I have to go back to boring old rock 'n' roll now." Except he gets e-mails like the one that was forwarded to him minutes before he rode Besan�on.

It was from a sporting-goods clerk in the States who had just sold all of the store's 500 yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets to one young man—500 of the eight million that Nike paid for and that are being sold for $1 each, with all proceeds going to Lance Armstrong Foundation programs that benefit cancer research and provide medical supplies.

"Why do you need so many?" the clerk asked the man.

He said his father had just died of cancer, and the thing that had kept him alive in his hospital bed the last three weeks was Armstrong. "Every single minute of the Tour, my dad's inspiration was Lance," the son said. "And he gave a bracelet to everybody who visited." So, at the funeral, the young man said, he was going to give everybody who came a bracelet, as a gift.

Armstrong read that on his BlackBerry and nearly cried. Less than 45 minutes before the last stage that meant anything, trying to keep his focus on this 19th grueling day of racing, trying to hold on for the last of these 2, 109 miles, and he felt like a puddle. "Finally," Armstrong remembers, "I stood up and said to myself, I think I'm going to go fast today."

He did. He thumped second-place finisher Jan Ullrich of Germany by 61 seconds, which was funny because he had thumped second-place finisher Jan Ullrich by 61 seconds up Alpe d'Huez three days earlier, which was interesting because he had thumped second-place finisher Jan Ullrich by 61 seconds total in winning the race last year.

Poor Ullrich. He was going for a historic sixth—six second-place finishes in the Tour—but failed. He finished fourth on Sunday.

But swallowing the Tour de France whole is not why Armstrong will be back for seven, if not eight. He will be back because he beat 14 tumors and 4-in-10 odds of surviving, and now he flies up Alps and gives people hope. He'll be back because he's the poster boy for living. He'll be back because the gift is not his bracelets, the gift is him.

So if you think it's a damn shame that one of the five greatest athletes in American history performs eye-bulging feats in front of almost none of his countrymen, then go to Alpe d'Huez next summer. Go and line that mountain with 10 times the countrymen Armstrong has ever seen there.

Then we'll see how much spitting goes on.

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