The trial of miles; miles of trials.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Run

The following is from It's Not About the Bike, by Lance Armstrong: 

Speaking of his famous surge of Sestriere that set up his 1999 Tour win.  Johan was his coach following in a car.

"I surged again, driving the pace just a little higher.  I was probing, seeking information on their fitness and states of mind, how they would respond.

I opened a tiny gap, curious.  Were they tired?
No response.
"One length," Johan said.
I accelerated.
"Three lengths, four lengths, five lengths."
Johan paused.  Then he said, almost casually, "Why don't you put a little more on?"
I accelerated again.
"Forty feet," he said.

When you open a gap, and you competitors don't respond, it tells you something.  They're hurting.  And when they're hurting, that's when you take them.  We were four miles from the finish.  I drove my legs down onto the pedals.

"You've got thirty seconds!"  Johan said, more excitedly.  In my ear, Johan continued to narrate my progress.  Now he reported that Zulle was trying to chase.  Zullle, always Zulle.
"Look, I'm just going to go," I said into my radio.  "I'm going to put this thing away."

The bike swayed under me as I worked the pedals, and my shoulders began heaving with fatigue.  I felt a creeping exhaustion, and my body was moving all over the top of the bike.  My nostrils flared, as I struggled to breath, fighting for any extra air at all.  I bared my teeth in a half-snarl.

It was still a long haul to the finish, and I was concerned Zulle would catch me.  But I maintained my rhythm.  I glanced over my, shoulder, half expecting to see Zulle on my wheel.  Nobody was there.

I faced forward again.  Now I could see the finish line-it was all uphill the rest of the way.  I drove toward the peak.

Was I thinking of cancer as I rode those last few hundred yards?  No.  I'd be lying if I said I was.  But I think that directly or indirectly, what had happened over the past two years was with me.  It was stacked up and stored away, everything I'd been through, the bout with cancer, and the disbelief within the sport that I could come back.  It either  made me faster or them slower, I don't know which.

As I continued to climb, I felt pain, but I felt exultation, too, at what I could do with my body.  To race and suffer, that's hard.  But it's not being laid out in a hospital bed with a catheter hanging out of your chest, platinum burning your veins, throwing up for 24 hours straight, five days a week.

What was I thinking?  A funny thing.  I remembered a scene in Good Will Hunting, a movie in which Matt Damon plays an alienated young math prodigy, an angry kid from the wrong side of the South Boston tracks, not unlike me.  In the film he tries to socialize with some upper-class Harvard students in a bar, and wins a duel of wits with a pompous intellectual to win a girl's affections.

Afterward Damon gloats to the guy he bested, "Hey.  Do you like apples?"
"Yeah," the guy says, "I like apples."
"Well, I got her phone number," Damon says triumphantly.  "How do you like them apples?"

I climbed those hundreds of meters, sucking in the thin mountain air, and thought of that movie, and grinned.  As I approached the finish line, I spoke into my radio to my friends in the support car, Johan and Thom Weisel.

"Hey, Thom, Johan," I said.  "Do you like apples?"  Their puzzled reply crackled in my ear.  "Yeah, we like apples.  Why?"

I yelled into the mouthpiece, "How do you like them fuckin' apples!"  I hit the finish line with my arms upraised, my eyes toward the sky.  And then I put my hands to my face in disbelief.  With the climb into Sestriere I  now led the Tour de France by six minutes, three seconds."


  1. That dude is crazy! He destroyed everything! I have never read the book, but I have always meant too. Thanks for reminding me! I am ordering it on my Nook right now.

  2. That's one of the best inspirational books I read. Another was Andre Agassi's "Open." The most amazing thing to me is that he went on to win another 6 Tours after 99 and then place 3rd last year after being retired for 4 years. Insane physically, but a mental genius. Did he ever dope? Of course he did, but he'll never admit it because he's legendary and wants to stay that way.

  3. Effing amazing! That man is a machine. Thanks for posting this Remus, I was going to check this out on YouTube after we talked this weekend, but forgot. You guys should see the movie about the Leadville 100. It's a 100 mile mountain bike race in CO. Lance raced it, crazy climbs, etc. He said it was the race that got him back on a bike after retiring. Lance finished the entire ride in just under 6.5 hours total (new record) and rode the last 7 miles on a flat rear tire. He was climbing hills that others could only walk & push. Insane.