Lance Armstrong Plans a Clean, Victorious Comeback

as posted September 10, 2008, 10:38 am on the Wall Street Journal

He retired in 2005 after winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles. He’ll probably always be known as the tour’s best rider ever.

And he’s baaaack.

Lance Armstrong, the Texan who beat testicular cancer in 1996, vows to compete in five races next year, including the Tour de France. His reasons: He wants to raise cancer awareness, and he wants to become the oldest winner of the Tour de France. At 37, he’d be a year older than Belgian Firmin Lambot was when he won the event in 1922. And despite Armstrong’s consistently clear drug tests in the Tour de France, he’s all too aware that there are many skeptics who believe his victory in 1999 wasn’t clean.

Maybe we should have seen his return coming. Mr. Armstrong finished second last month in a grueling 100-mile mountain-bike race in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. He’s also been inspired by 41-year-old swimmer Dara Torres, the Olympics silver medalist from the Beijing Games.

While Armstrong’s drive to win and compete can’t be questioned, he admits in an interview with Vanity Fair that his back tires more easily than before, and it’s harder to get out of bed. “But when I’m going, when I’m on the bike — I feel just as good as I did before,” he tells the magazine.

“But at age 37?” writes Douglas Brinkley. “A 2,000-mile, 23-day race, much of it uphill? By next July? I asked him, rather ungraciously, if he wasn’t too old to get back into shape that quickly. He laughed. And he was off and running.”

Fort Worth Star Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton isn’t surprised by Armstrong’s comeback. “A part of him, Armstrong admitted, wants to return to lay the last of the doping rumors to rest,” Mr. LeBreton writes. “The cynics and critics still wonder how Armstrong won the Tour seven times, while so many of the others who finished second, third and so on have all confessed or been banned as doping cheats.”

In the Chicago Tribune, Philip Hersh writes that Armstrong raises more questions than he answers by returning. The biggest challenge will be mental, Robbie Ventura, a cycling coach, tells Mr. Hersh. “Physically, Lance can definitely do it,” Mr. Ventura says. “The hardest part will be to go back to the mental discipline of training, eating and sleeping with 110 percent commitment. Snapping your brain back into a mode of being perfect all the time is difficult.”

But the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, who has written two books about the cyclist, believes Armstrong can raise the funds and mobilize the science to defeat cancer. “Lance’s enemies and critics, who are legion, will sneer that his accomplishments were dope-fueled and that his comeback is vanity-driven, and even some of his admirers will question whether it’s sensible to try to add to his record of seven Tour de France victories after three years away from the bike,” Ms. Jenkins writes. “But the fact is that cancer and improbable odds are the keys to his fierce personality, they’re what propelled him over 2,300 miles and up mountainsides in the first place. ‘Watch, I’m gonna win it again,’ he said, after the first one. ‘Know why? ‘Cause everyone says I can’t.’”

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