Monday, July 20, 2009

Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, Cake, and Mortality

I used to race bicycles a very long time ago. Campagnolo still used friction shifting, the shifters themselves lived on the down tube, and didn't have anything to do with the brake levers. Racers shaved their legs and attached tires to the rims with glue, not wire (or kevlar?) beads.

It was 1988 or '89, and Lance Armstrong was making his move from junior triathlete to road cyclist. I raced for a scrappy bike shop team in the Dallas area, and on Tuesday evenings teams from around the area would gather in a park and race criterium-style around a 1 kilometer loop course. As a then category-3 racer, I held on with the big boys in the 1-2-3-pro category each week. Lance, newer to the sport and the culture of road racing, was kicking our butts. Everyone else was kicking mine, too, mind you. There were some strong guys out there who raced for big teams, and Lance readily smoked them each time he bothered to show up.

I have distinct memories of Lance muscling his way to the start line at the head of the field just seconds before the start. I can also remember him riding off the front of the bunch like we were sitting still. I could often look across the course and see a lone rider - going at it pursuit-style - who would eventually catch up and lap the main field. Clearly this guy was different.

Fast forward twenty years (yikes) and here we are today. Lance is still instructing lesser riders on how to properly race bikes.

On stage 15 of Le Tour, however, on the ride up to Verbier, Lance did not attack. Lance soldiered on with the lead group, on purpose, or not, and maintained.

Is this the end of the Lance Armstrong era? Again?

While my racing career ended long ago, I must admit I always held out a little glimmer of hope. Guys "my age" were still kicking butts and taking names, right?

Funny, I have let the Tour de France create an existential issue for me. I see just a little bit of my old self in Lance.

This whole internal argument kind of reminds me of the Mr. Mastodon Farm song by Cake:

You see birds fall from the window ledge above mine.
Then they flap their wings at the last second.
I can see their dead weight
Just dropping like stones
For small loaves of bread
Past my window all the time.
But unless I get up,
Walk across the room
And peer down below,
I don't see their last second curves
Toward a horizontal flight.
All these birds just falling from the ledge like stones.

Now due to a construct in my mind
That makes their falling and their flight
Symbolic of my entire existence,
It becomes important for me
To get up and see
Their last second curves toward flight.
It's almost as if my life will fall
Unless I see their ascent.

I don't know about the birds, but for the next five days I will be glued to the Tour de France. I will be cheering on Lance has he works it out in the Alps for his team, himself, cancer survivors, and...existentially-challenged 37-year old former bike racers.

Go Lance...put the hammer down, buddy, and show those kids how it's done.

Posted via email from SubstantialSandwich's posterous

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