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Ah yes. The tour groups. How many are there? A hundred? Two hundred? A thousand? At this year's Tour de France, a profusion of yellow-braceleted amateurs wove their way up the Alps and the Pyrenees, so absorbed in their Tour experience that it seldom occurred to them to get the hell out of the middle of the road. "More than any athlete, possibly ever, Lance transcends sport," says former Tour de France stage winner Davis Phinney of his friend. It's tough to argue with him, just as it's difficult to say which is the more impressive, or important: the seven Tours de France won by Lance Armstrong or the $85 million raised by the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
I talked to Phinney in Pau, at the start of stage 17. He was having a good day; his hands were trembling only a little. Phinney suffers from Parkinson's. Like Armstrong, he has formed an organization--the Davis Phinney Foundation--to take the fight to his affliction. "If I can do a hundredth of what Lance has done, I'll be happy," he says. "I just want to hold his wheel for 100 meters."
He sees Armstrong's retirement as a beginning, not an end. "He already has the platform with the cancer community," Phinney says. "Now he's ready to get busy." While not in its infancy, Lance's foundation "is just a teenager," Phinney continues. "With his energy and intellect and passion, he's going to go a long way."
How far? In what direction? A lot of people think that despite Armstrong's demurrals, he'd be a natural politician. I broached the subject over a glass of wine with a reporter from a cable network. He shook his head. "The guy didn't go to college," he said. "There's no way he's going into politics."
There's no way. That will sound familiar to Armstrong. First, he wasn't supposed to live. Then he wasn't supposed to ride again in the pro peloton. Then he wasn't supposed to win the Tour, or win it twice, or win it five times. Now he shouldn't run for office because he didn't spend four years boning up on Romance languages and serving as social chairman of Beta Theta Pi.
Could Armstrong find a home in politics? Let's ask that gaunt-looking fellow who was posing for pictures last Saturday in Saint-Etienne. "Undoubtedly," replies John Kerry, whose pastimes are not limited to windsurfing. The senator, who rode shotgun in a car behind Armstrong during the final time trial, is an ardent cyclist and Tour fan. Armstrong would need to get "up to speed" on policy issues, Kerry says, "but he's a natural leader, someone who's overcome a great deal. He has vision and compassion. He's shown he can handle the politics of the peloton, and he can handle this," his gesture taking in the madhouse crowd surrounding the Discovery bus. "I think he could do very well."
"Don't underestimate the guy," says Knaggs, whose optimism extends to the futures of both America's greatest cyclist and American cycling. On that last subject, he says, "There's a kid out there who's 15 years old. He's already putting in five-hour days, and he's going to be a great champion."
So he's out there--the next Lance?
"No," he says, "not the next Lance. There's only one."