Lance Armstrong

As the Tour de France comes to its end in the next few days and it looks like Lance Armstrong has a good chance to win his seventh straight race, I found the following excerpts from this older New Yorker profile article of Armstrong to contain many interesting insights into him:

Lance Armstrong’s heart is almost a third larger than that of an average man. During those rare moments when he is at rest, it beats about thirty-two times a minute-slowly enough so that a doctor who knew nothing about him would call a hospital as soon as he heard it. (When Armstrong is exerting himself, his heart rate can edge up above two hundred beats a minute.) Physically, he was a prodigy…
Armstrong was an outstanding young swimmer, and as an adolescent he began to enter triathlons. By 1987, when he was sixteen, he was also winning bicycle races. That year, he was invited to the Cooper Institute, in Dallas, which was one of the first centers to recognize the relationship between fitness and aerobic conditioning. Everyone uses oxygen to break down food into the components that provide energy; the more oxygen you are able to use, the more energy you will produce, and the faster you can run, ride, or swim. Armstrong was given a test called the VO2 Max, which is commonly used to assess an athlete’s aerobic ability: it measures the maximum amount of oxygen the lungs can consume during exercise. His levels were the highest ever recorded at the clinic. (Currently, they are about eighty-five millilitres per kilogram of body weight; a healthy man might have a VO2 Max of forty.)
Chris Carmichael, who became his coach when Armstrong was still a teen-ager, told me that even then Armstrong was among the most remarkable athletes he had ever seen. Not only has his cardiovascular strength always been exceptional; his body seems specially constructed for cycling. His thigh bones are unusually long, for example, which permits him to apply just the right amount of torque to the pedals…
Within a week, Armstrong had surgery to remove the cancerous testicle. By then, the disease had spread to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. He needed brain surgery and the most aggressive type of chemotherapy. “At that point, he had a minority chance of living another year,” Craig Nichols, who was Armstrong’s principal oncologist, told me. “We cure at most a third of the people in situations like that.” A professor at Oregon Health Sciences University who specializes in testicular cancer, Nichols has remained a friend and is an adviser to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which supports cancer research. Nichols described Armstrong as the “most willful person I have ever met.” And, he said, “he wasn’t willing to die.” Armstrong underwent four rounds of chemotherapy so powerful that the chemicals destroyed his musculature and caused permanent kidney damage; in the final treatments, the chemicals left burns on his skin from the inside out. Cofidis, convinced that Armstrong’s career (and perhaps his life) was over, told his agent while he was still in the hospital that it wanted to reconsider the terms of his contract. That may have turned out to be the worst bet in the history of sports…
Armstrong now says that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him. Before becoming ill, he didn’t care about strategy or tactics or teamwork-and nobody (no matter what his abilities) becomes a great cyclist without mastering those aspects of the sport. Despite Armstrong’s brilliant early start in the 1993 Tour, for example, he didn’t even finish the race; he dropped out when the teams entered the most difficult mountain phase, in the Alps. (He also failed to finish in 1994 and 1996.)
As Carmichael pointed out to me, Armstrong had always been gifted, but “genetically he is not alone. He is near the top but not at the top. I have seen people better than Lance that never go anywhere. Before Lance had cancer, we argued all the time. He never trained right. He just relied on his gift. He would do what you asked for two weeks, then flake off and do his own thing for a month or two. And then a big race would be coming up and he would call me up, all tense, telling me, ‘God, I have got to start training, and you guys better start sending me some programs.’ I would say, ‘Lance, you don’t just start preparing things four weeks before a race. This is a long process.’ ”
Cycling is, above all, a team sport, and the tactics involved are as complicated as those of baseball or basketball. “Ever try to explain the infield-fly rule to somebody?” Armstrong asked me when we were in Texas, where he lives when he is not racing or training in Europe. “You have to watch it to get it. As soon as you pay some attention to the tactics, cycling makes a lot of sense.”…
The physical demands on competitive cyclists are immense. One day, they will have to ride two hundred kilometres through the mountains; the next day there might be a long, flat sprint lasting seven hours. Because cyclists have such a low percentage of body fat, they are more susceptible to infections than other people. (At the beginning of the Tour, Armstrong’s body fat is around four or five per cent; this season, Shaquille O’Neal, the most powerful player in the N.B.A., boasted that his body-fat level was sixteen per cent.)
The Tour de France has been described as the equivalent of running twenty marathons in twenty days…
Looking at a wide range of physical activities, Saris and his colleagues measured the metabolic demands made on people engaged in each of them. “On average, the cyclists expend sixty-five hundred calories a day for three weeks, with peak days of ten thousand calories,” he said. “If you are sedentary, you are burning perhaps twenty-five hundred calories a day. Active people might burn as many as thirty-five hundred.”
Saris compared the metabolic rates of professional cyclists while they were riding with those of a variety of animal species, and he created a kind of energy index-dividing daily expenditure of energy by resting metabolic rate. This figure turned out to range from one to seven. An active male rates about two on Saris’s index and an average professional cyclist four and a half. Almost no species can survive with a number that is greater than five. For example, the effort made by birds foraging for food sometimes kills them, and they scored a little more than five. In fact, only four species are known to have higher rates on Saris’s energy index than the professional cyclists in his study: a small Australian possum, a macaroni penguin, a large seabird called a gannet, and one species of marsupial mouse…
Every ounce of fat, bone, and muscle on Armstrong’s body is regularly inventoried, analyzed, and accounted for. I asked him if he felt it was necessary to endure the daily prodding and poking required to provide all this information, and to adhere so rigidly to his training schedules. “Depends whether you want to win,” he replied. “I do. The Tour is a two-thousand-mile race, and people sometimes win by one minute. Or less. One minute in nearly a month of suffering isn’t that much. So the people who win are the ones willing to suffer the most.” Suffering is to cyclists what poll data are to politicians; they rely on it to tell them how well they are doing their job. Like many of his competitors in the peloton, Armstrong seems to love pain, and even to crave it…

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Caroline Ikiara
Caroline Ikiara
15 years ago

Am from Kenya in East Africa.My boyfriend John and I have been great fans of Mr. Armstrong.We wish you all the best as you retire.I admire the great works you do. If I had the means I’d pay for you to come for a holiday in Kenya with your kids and Sheryl but I hope you do so one day.All the best big bro.

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