Lance Armstrong is a retired American professional road racing cyclist. He won the Tour de France many consecutive years and has had other accomplishments as well. In 1999, he was named the World of Sports Athlete of the Year and was named Sportsman of the Year in 2002.
The Early Years
Born September 18, 1971, Lance's natural athleticism was nurtured by his mother Linda, a single parent, while his temperament was molded by his participation in a variety of sports in their hometown of Plano, Texas. With the energy of youth, an inherent ability and a decidedly competitive nature on his side, Lance won the Iron Kids Triathlon at 13 and became a professional triathlete when he was just 16 years old. The swimming and running components of triathlon competition eventually gave way to cycling, however, and by the time Lance was a senior in high school he had a rolodex of potential cycling sponsors and a burgeoning career that was quickly replacing nearly everything else in his life. Long rides on Saturdays frequently took him to the Oklahoma border, where he had bicycled so far away from home he would have to call his mother to come and pick him up. Lance maintains that he was "born to race bikes." The evidence was mounting to support that theory even before he was out of high school.
With a determination that belied his age, Lance qualified to train with the U.S. Olympic developmental team in Colorado Springs, Colorado during his senior year. His grueling training schedule nearly cost him his high school diploma, but private classes during the final weeks of the school year enabled Lance to graduate on time. And with graduation came the opportunity to finally turn his attention to cycling on a full time basis.
Lance qualified for the 1989 junior world championships in Moscow the following summer. Amateur competition would prove valuable for Lance in more than the obvious ways. Not only was he able to hone his cycling skills, but the experience acquainted the shy, all-American kid from Plano with life outside of Texas and enabled him to make important connections in the cycling world. By 1991 he was the U.S. National Amateur Champion, and he remained an amateur competitor through the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona.
His first professional race after this Olympic experience was the 1992 Classico San Sebastian. Up to that point, Lance's rise through the ranks of amateur cyclists had been virtually effortless. He would soon find out that it's not always so easy, crossing the finish line in a pouring cold rain in last place, 27 minutes behind the winner - but he simply would not quit his first pro endeavor. His career may well have ended that day were it not for the influence of his hard working mother, who remains his biggest hero even today. He credits her with instilling the tenacity he needed to not only finish that race, but to remain on the circuit as well. It was a humbling experience that strengthened his resolve - but set the tone for his career: despite the odds, don't quit.
To say that he fared considerably better throughout the following season is an understatement. His 10 titles in 1993 included winning the US PRO Championship, taking his first stage victory in the prestigious Tour de France, and becoming the youngest road racing World Champion ever. And for the first time in cycling history, a U.S. team, Lance's Team Motorola, was ranked among the top five in the world.
Lance's life took on the routine of a world-class cyclist. He spent approximately 8 months a year in Europe racing on the professional circuit. He was attracting legions of fans at every race and learning how to cope with their attention and the increasing curiosity of the media. Off seasons were spent in his adoptive home of Austin, TX where he could enjoy friends and family, far away from the glare of the European press.
He continued to grow as an athlete over the ensuing two years, often finding himself as the lone American amongst a field of Europeans. He secured his place in U.S. racing history with his victory in the 1993 $1,000,000 Thrift Drug Triple Crown (and the TDS Classic in 1994), then winning the 1995 Tour Du Pont, and being named the 1995 Velo News American Male Cyclist of the Year. He scored a dramatic and heartfelt stage 18 win at the 1995 Tour de France in honor of his fallen teammate, Fabio Casartelli. In an another dramatic victory, but one laced with irony, Lance also became the first American to win the Classico San Sebastian -- the very race that he finished dead last in just three years earlier. Lance's high profile in the sport enabled him to establish the Lance Armstrong Junior Olympic Race Series in 1995. Designed to promote cycling and racing among America's youth, it was his way of giving back to the sport that had shaped his life.
Lance roared into 1996 as the number one ranked cyclist in the world. He recaptured his success at the Tour Du Pont (the first person to do so), was the first American to win the traditional Belgian spring classic Fleche Wallone, and competed as a member of the U.S. cycling team in the Atlanta summer Olympic games. He then signed a lucrative two-year contract with the French Cofidis racing team and moved into a spectacular home that took two years to plan and build in an exclusive sub-division of Austin. Affectionately named "Casa Linda" in honor of his mother, the Mediterranean-style home became his new address when Lance was just four months shy of his 25th birthday - an age when few men achieve such status and recognition, and even fewer are faced with their own mortality...
The man who had been featured in attention grabbing headlines such as "Du Pont Dominator" and "The Golden Boy of American Cycling," was literally forced off his bike in excruciating pain in October of 1996. Tests revealed advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and his brain. A press conference held on October 9th announced the stunning news to the world. This athletic and vibrant young man would be operated on twice in the ensuing weeks - once to remove the malignant testicle, and then dramatic brain surgery to remove the cancer that had spread upward. Chances for his recovery were far less than 50/50 as a frightened-but-determined Lance began an aggressive form of chemotherapy. At the time still in its proving stages, this "cocktail" of chemicals (called "VIP" - Ifosfamide, Etoposide, and Platinol) gave him the chance for a full recovery with far less danger of losing lung capacity as a side effect. While it weakened him well beyond anything he had ever experienced, he had a deep well of reserves and the unconditional support of family and friends. Remarkably, the chemotherapy began to work and Lance gradually allowed his thoughts to return to racing. He began riding and training only five months after his diagnosis, still uncertain of his future in the sport, but a profoundly grateful and resolute man.
Cancer left him scarred physically and emotionally, but he now maintains it was an unexpected gift; a viewpoint that is shared by many cancer survivors. Getting cancer was "...the best thing that ever happened to me," Lance said, in relation to the maturity and life focus the disease forced him to face. Throughout this life threatening ordeal, Lance knew his priorities were changing. His physical well being, something that had never been challenged, was suddenly fragile. He was given the chance to fully appreciate the blessings of good health, a loving family, and close friends. Lance described his bout with cancer as "a special wake-up call." He heeded the call to activism by becoming a spokesperson for testicular and other forms of cancer and formed the Lance Armstrong Foundation within months of his diagnosis. This international, non-profit Foundation was established initially to benefit cancer research and promote urologic cancer awareness and the importance of early detection. Its focus now is on being the world leader in the concept of "Cancer Survivorship" - helping people manage and survive cancer.
In May of 1998 Lance celebrated his victory over cancer and his "official" return to U.S. cycling by winning under the lights in dramatic fashion the Sprint 56K Criterium along the streets of downtown Austin. The race was just one part of the Ride for the Roses, a weekend of cycling and celebration in Austin, Texas benefiting Lance's Foundation. The month was not only memorable in a professional sense, but personally as well - he had recently become engaged to Kristin Richard. Their year long romance, which first began at the 1997 Ride for the Roses, culminated in a beautiful ceremony with family and close friends in Santa Barbara, California on May 8.
Though Lance's win in the Sprint 56K Criterium marked an important milestone in his comeback to the sport, many were still skeptical of his ability to return to professional cycling at the top European level; key among them was his new team Cofidis - they terminated his contract soon after the news of his illness. Within months, however, Lance proudly announced a new affiliation with the United States Postal Service pro cycling team with whom he rides today. Their faith in him strengthened his resolve to live up to his own and his team's expectations and resume his position as one of the world's top cyclists. But before he would once again resume the mantle of "Boss" within the pro peloton, he would have to overcome one more hurdle.
In 1998 Lance returned to the cycling circuit, first completing the Ruta del Sol quite respectfully, and then he entered Paris-Nice. The weather conditions during Stage 2 were horrendous, reminding some of his first pro race back in 1993... it was soon clear that Lance was not having a good day on the bike, and in the cold and pouring rain he simply pulled over and was done. Done with the race, the training, the sport - finished as far as he was concerned. He'd given it a shot, did his best and apparently it just wasn't good enough. He returned home to Austin to figure out what he wanted to do now in life - and then along came Chris Carmichael, Bob Roll, and the town of Boone, North Carolina. Chris and Bob not only were close friends of Lance's, Chris was his coach and Bob a former teammate from the Motorola days. The 3 of them went to Boone just to do some riding and hang out, and as the story is told today "In the hills of North Carolina Lance learned to love the bike again," - he was back - and now his heart was in it!
Following this literal personal cycling revelation, Lance went on in 1998 to score stunning victories at the Tour de Luxembourg, the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfarht in Germany, the Cascade Classic in Oregon, and not only finished fourth in the Tour of Holland (September, 1998), but a remarkable fourth in the grueling 3 week Vuelta Espana (Tour of Spain - September, 1998), one of the three most elite races in the world! He concluded his '98 season with an overall fourth place finish at the World Championships in Holland. Achieved under brutal weather and racing conditions, only 66 out of 152 riders even completed the race. And if that wasn't enough to feel "back in the race", Lance came home to the U.S. and awarded his Foundation's first two grants to cancer research. In excess of $300,000, the gifts were a direct result of funds raised from the 1997 and 1998 Ride for the Roses' weekends.
As 1999 rolled around, the fabled Tour de France became Lance and Team USPS's primary quest. This goal was essentially unheard of by an American team; even 3-time American winner Greg Lemond had been on a French team during his successes. Lance started the season out slowly, training hard, picking and choosing his events as they related to the big race in July. This preparation style would soon become a hallmark of his Tour success, making sure he peaked at just the right time. He started to show some form in late Spring, winning the Circuit de la Sarthe Time Trial and then a Top 10 GC finish in the Vuelta a Aragon. He placed a wrenching 2nd place at Amstel Gold after breaking away from the pack and taking Rabobank rider Michael Boogerd with him. Despite pulling the Dutch rider for many kilometers, Boogerd came around Lance at the line and literally won by a tire width... coming back to the USA for the '99 version of the LAF Ride for the Roses weekend, Lance got into a 3 man break in the Criterium and took second place as the trio nearly lapped the entire field! Lance kept ramping upward with strong showings in both the Dauphine Libere and Route du Sud stage races. And then it was Tour time...
The 1999 Tour de France
Not wanting to leave any doubts as to what he was capable of, Lance won the opening Prologue Time Trial in convincing fashion. Knowing that defending the yellow jersey this early in the race could sap the strength of his teammates too soon, they let the overall (GC) lead go for a while. But showing their race savvy, the team made sure they always stayed up at the front of the pack. This decision proved critical following a major crash on the slippery Passage du Gois causeway; a pile up that essentially removed 50% of the riders from GC contention, including some major Tour hopefuls. At the Stage 8 Time Trial, it was time once again for Lance to take matters into his own hands. Lance won the stage and retook ownership of the famed "Mailot Jaune", and he and his team would not release their grip all the way to Paris! Lance also won a now legendary stage atop Sestriere - "At the departure today I was not thinking of winning the stage, just defending the yellow jersey," - but things change... driving over the historic Col du Galibier then up to the mountaintop finish, by day's end Lance had put over 6 minutes into his closest competitor! Lance would add another Time Trial victory in Stage 19 and go on to win the race by over 7 minutes - a tremendous victory not only for Lance, but for cancer survivors around the world!
Lance ended the year in a very non-traditional manner, racing 3 professional mountains bike races for Team Trek-VW. Much more importantly though, was another life changing event for the American rider: his son Luke was born happy and healthy Oct 12th.
The following year there was an air of expectation surrounding the build up to the 2000 Tour. Still very much Lance's primary focus, this year's version would include 1997/98 winners Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani, both absent in 1999. Skeptics wondered "Could Lance answer their challenge?" and he answered them with another resounding "Yes!" - but first, the preparation. He trained in several early season races, primarily in Spain and Switzerland. He displayed some positive results of this initial work by finishing second at Paris-Camembert in April. In June he placed third in both of the French Dauphine Libere and Classique des Alpes races, but then it was time for the main goal - the 2000 Tour de France. But just prior to the main event, there was a very scary moment for the American rider. While training in the Pyrenees mountains Lance's tire blew and he went down hard on a 45 mph descent, crashing headfirst into a stone retaining wall. He was very fortunate that he only suffered scrapes, bruises, and a slight concussion.
The 2000 Tour de France
Lance again started out strong - only Scottish Time Trial specialist David Millar could better him by a scant 2 seconds in the opening Time Trial, and German Telekom rival Jan Ullrich was also in the thick of the hunt just 12 seconds back to Lance. With no jersey to defend early on, the pressure was off of Lance and Team USPS for some time, as long as they could stay close and keep Lance safe. During the newly revived Stage 4 Team Time Trial the "boys in blue" were tested as a unit and passed nicely with Lance driving their pace, coming in second only to TTT specialist Team ONCE.
Like last year there would be a mythical mountaintop that would define the critical moment for Lance. In 1999 it was "Sestriere" - in 2000, "Hautacam". On another very cold and wet day, Lance - almost 6 minutes behind the Tour leader Alberto Elli - attacked viciously on the last climb and simply left a world class group of riders that included Pantani, Zulle, Ullrich, Virenque, Boogerd, and Escartin. Javier Otxoa would just manage take the stage win, but more importantly Lance had once again grabbed the Tour by the throat and now had an overall GC lead of over 4 minutes! When he and his team came out of the mountains 8 days later, Lance had increased his overall lead to 5' 37" and then put his final stamp on Le Tour by winning the Stage 19 Time Trial by 25 seconds over Jan Ullrich. He would end the race by winning over 6 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor, and had certainly answered his critics questions with strength, class, and teamwork.
There was another major event for Lance in 2000 - the Summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia. But prior to the big day Lance was again involved in a major crash, this time being hit by a car while training in Nice, France with 2 teammates! Not so lucky this time, an MRI showed a fracture of the C-7 vertebra, but Lance would ride in Sydney anyway. He joined USPS teammates George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton "down under" on the US team, and came home with the bronze medal in the Time Trial (the gold medal ironically won by another USPS teammate Viacheslav "Eki" Ekimov, riding for the Russian team). Lance ended the year with 2 more victories; one in the GP Des Nations and another teamed with Eki in the GP Eddy Merckx 2-man Time Trial. The 2000 season was certainly one of a coming of age for Lance, and 2001 didn't look like it was going to do anything but get better...
While Lance does not particularly like being labeled "The Boss of the Peloton", but that's exactly what he was coming into the 2001 season. He continued his demanding training schedule, determined to come into the Tour in even stronger form than he had in the 2 previous years. The team strengthened as well by signing climbing specialists Chechu Rubiera and 2000 Vuelta Espana winner Roberto Heras to add even more USPS horsepower in the Alps and Pyrenees. Lance started the year off quietly in the Spanish multi-day Tour of Murcia and Semana Catalana races to get the juices flowing. By now, his Foundation's "Ride for the Roses" weekend in the Spring had dramatically risen in attendance - from a few hundred riders in 1997 to over 6,500 this time around! In mid-season he rode the French Circuit de la Sarthe and Paris-Camembert events, again, primarily for training. And Lance entered one of his favorite races, Amstel Gold, in April and again came up oh-so-short in the Netherlands event. Erik Dekker and Lance leapt away from the pack and went mano-a-mano for many miles, but there was no wheel riding like in 1999. Dekker took the final 2 man sprint in a solid manner, and Lance would say later that he was indeed the better man that day.
Following another appearance in the Spanish Bicicleta Vasca in May, it was time for Lance to start testing himself and he entered the Tour of Switzerland. Not only did Lance do a god job in this aspect, he ended up winning the race as well! He started very Tour-like by winning the Prologue Time Trial, and then stayed right at the top of the GC standings and finally took the overall lead by winning the Mountain Time Trial a week later. Despite being billed as another TdF preparation race, Lance ended up making a strong statement looking ahead to Le Tour, just a couple of weeks away...
The 2001 Tour de France
Tour 2001 saw some big changes in the top ranks of the peloton pecking order. While Lance certainly came in as the odds-on favorite, Jan Ullrich was now the only clear challenger. Marco Pantani was not in very good form, and riders like 2000 Giro winner Francesco Casagrande were recovering from injuries. And once again, the make up and resolve of LA's support team was also called into question - and once again they would answer that call with en emphatic positive statement.
Lance started the Tour off as expected, doing very well in the Prologue Time Trial, just a few seconds behind TT specialist Christophe Moreau, and Ullrich also did well. Lance and Team USPS were very content to sit in and let things develop, looking ahead to the mountains to make their move - but things would get a little complicated for them before too long. It was no cake walk for sure as the other teams upped the pace in the first week, hoping for some drama that would put Lance in difficulty early on. In the Stage 5 Team Time Trial, near disaster struck as 2 USPS riders (Christian Vande Velde and Roberto Heras) went down hard on the rain slick roads. But the team cranked it up with Lance leading them, and despite a substantial delay managed a very respectable 4th best time of the day.
More drama would come a few days later as 14 men went off the front on a cold and wet setting and built a BIG lead over a seemingly disinterested main peloton. How big? Almost 36 minutes by day's end... was this the big break others had hoped for? Lance would answer that question 2 days later on the famed climb up to Alpe d'Huez. Despite being among the leaders throughout the stage, he did not look to be in good form and with the final climb - and one man nearly 7 minutes ahead of him - Lance appeared to be on the ropes - "appeared". On a nasty switchback, LA teammate Chechu Rubiera launched an attack with Lance hot on his wheel - they had bluffed all day, and now it was time to ride! Then, in a moment many feel defined the 2001 Tour, Lance - with Ullrich ridinig on his wheel - turned for a quick check on his competitors in what has since been dubbed "The Look". He apparently liked what he saw, launched a furious vertical assault, and simply rode away from some of the greatest cycling climbers in the world. But putting time into his rivals was not enough - Lance wanted the stage win as well. He rode within himself but at a relentless high spin pace, and soon caught and dropped the leading French rider. Lance would indeed go on to win one of the most epic stages in cycling, and send a message that he was ready and very able to go for his third Tour victory.
Lance continued his march upward through the GC standings, winning the Stage 12 Mountain Time Trial in convincing fashion. Jan Ulrich was certainly in excellent form as well, but just never enough to outdo his rival. Two stages later, Lance would take command of the 2001 TdF on the climb to Pla d'Adet and set another standard, this time for fair play. On a fast descent, Ullrich was trailing Lance and lost control in a turn, crashing 20 feet down into a road side ravine. And Lance waited. "It's not fair to take advantage of a situation like that," he would later say. And at the end of the stage, it was again Lance and Ullrich battling for the win - and Lance taking another stage victory and a GC lead of almost 4 minutes. With the mountains behind him, Lance was secure with a 5 minute overall lead, but he added an emphatic stamp by winning the final Stage 18 Time Trial as well. As the peloton rolled onto the Champs Elysees 2 days later, Lance had done what only a few of the most elite riders in history have ever accomplished: won the Tour de France 3 consecutive times!
Following the 2001 Tour, Lance's focus was now far more family oriented. His wife Kristin was pregnant - with twin girls! - and on November 20th they welcomed Isabelle Rose and Grace Elizabeth to the growing Armstrong clan. As Lance and Team USPS look ahead to the 2002 cycling season, there's no question about where the focus will be: "The Tour is and always will be my main goal," Lance said in a December interview. Riding over 2,000 miles in France at an average speed of 25 mph is a long way from lying near death in a hospital bed in Indiana. But Lance Armstrong has come a long way in his first 30 years of life - as a rider, as a survivor, as a man. 2002
In 2002, the sports world simply witnessed one of its premier athletes performing at his peak, an athlete who appears to be strengthening his position at the top of his sport, a position he seems destined to hold for as long as he chooses. Lance had another stellar campaign this year, capped by his fourth consecutive victory at the Tour de France. He's now just one of five riders to have four Tour de France wins.
- The other four - all of whom have won five Tours - are true cycling legends: Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964) and Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985), Belgian Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974) and Spaniard Miguel Indurain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995). Lance also joins Anquetil, Merckx and Indurain as the only winners of four straight Tours - and chases Indurain as the only man to ever win 5 in a row.
Lance's 2002 TdF margin of victory was the second largest of his four 7:17 ahead of Joseba Beloki, just 20 seconds less than his 7:37 margin over Alex Zulle in 1999 a performance Lance called the "easiest" of his wins, if there is such a thing in Grand Tour riding.
Lance also took part in a more varied schedule in '02, competing in a handful of super-demanding World Cup events in support of teammate George Hincapie, leading up to his traditional Tour preparation events. The pre-Tour results were as solid as usual second at Criterium International and fourth at Amstel Gold prior to victories at the Midi Libre and Dauphine Libere. Lance followed up the Tour with top-five finishes at the Championship of Zurich and the two-man Time Trial GP Eddy Merckx. A sixth place showing at the San Francisco Grand Prix concluded a long season.
While Lance's 2002 effort seemed familiar enough to the cycling world, the national media also took notice and awarded hime with two new prestigious distinctions Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" and The Associated Press "Male Athlete of the Year".
2002 Season Review:
Kicking off 2002, Lance opened many eyes at Milan-San Remo, finishing in the lead group for the first time after working for George Hincapie throughout the event. he followed that effort at the Criterium International, where a third-place showing in the time trial stage left him runner-up by less than one second to Alberto Martinez. Next up came two World Cup events the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege where the Texan again worked on behalf of Hincapie. This was followed by the Amstel Gold Race, a favorite event that Lance has targeted for years and now possesses three top-four finishes in (fourth in '02, after seconds in both 2001 and 1999).
Lance then won the Midi Libre, despite not winning a stage, placing second, third and fourth in the final three stages, respectively, and fighting off rival ONCE throughout. A dominating performance at the Dauphine followed, in which he tested his legs on the hallowed Mont Ventoux (seventh in stage 2) and rode another solid time trial (second to Santiago Botero in stage 3) before exorcising past Tour de France demons on the final stage to Morzine-Avoriaz, conquering the Col de Joux Plane to win by six seconds over Christophe Moreau and the overall by 2:03 over his teammate Floyd Landis.
Le Tour 2002
Meticulously and methodically, Lance and his USPS teammates dominated the Tour in a fashion perhaps not seen before, biding their time in true discipline in the initial flat stages and then taking control in the mountain stages; inflicting damage on each opponent at just the right time. Lance constantly lauded his teammates throughout the event, and justifiably so, but he also came through with some major performances four stage wins needed to cap the victory.
He began the '02 Tour with a win in the 7-km prologue in Luxembourg but was content to let the jersey go the next day to Rubens Bertogliati, stage one's surprise winner. Second place to Team ONCE in the stage four team time trial left Lance in third overall prior to his dropping five spots to eighth after a late race mishap with teammate Roberto Heras in stage seven. However, a solid second to Botero in the stage nine time trial left Lance sitting nicely in second place - with the mountains looming.
The Pyrenees proved to be the tonic for the USPS team as near perfect teamwork resulted in Lance's win in stage 11 to La Mongie, a resounding effort by the Texan and the team that left everyone - except Beloki - in the USPS team's wake. Lance then won the next stage to Plateau de Beille with another dominating performance, again using a masterful leadout from Heras in the final kms before launching himself to the 14th Tour stage win of his career.
Now through 12 stages, Lance's lead was 2:28, more than double the amount from the day before. Despite missing the coveted victory to Mont Ventoux in stage 14 to Richard Virenque, Armstrong's third place upped his lead to 4:21 with just one week remaining. Ninth in the Tour's longest stage to Les Deux Alpes, third to La Plagne and 24th to Cluses set the stage for Armstrong's convincing 2:11 win over Beloki in the stage 19 time trial to Macon that sealed overall victory.
Final thoughts - for now...
With his primary goal accomplished, Lance concluded his 2002 quest with a few more races on the schedule. Third at the Championship of Zurich, then fifth at the GP Eddy Merckx alongside teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov and finally sixth at the San Francisco Grand Prix. With this, Lance wrapped up another banner season - and now thoughts turned to joining the legendary quartet of Hinault, Anquetil, Merckx and Indurain, the only riders with 5 TdF victories. With the centenary version of the Tour being celebrated in 2003, people are already asking "Then what? Can Lance make it 6 in a row?" - time will tell, but first there's lots of training miles to be logged and races to ride...
Le Tour 2003
As we all know by now, Lance achieved his epic goal of winning 5 consecutive Tours de France this year. It was arguably his hardest fought victory of the quintet as he battled Jan Ullrich, dehydration, misfortune, and a determined peloton. We'll detail all of the 2003 season soon, for now it's time to recover...