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                                                             THE LONG RIDE
                                            How did Lance Armstrong manage the greatest comeback in sports history?

                                                                   BY MICHAEL SPECTER

A     couple of weeks ago, on a swelter-
      ing Saturday afternoon, I found
myself in the passenger seat of a small
                                                             times in a row. (In 1995, the Spanish
                                                             cyclist Miguel Indurain became the first
                                                             to win five consecutively—a record that
                                                                                                                “I bonked,” Armstrong said later,
                                                                                                            using a cyclist’s term for running out of
                                                                                                            fuel. A professional cyclist consumes so
Volkswagen, careering so rapidly around                      is clearly on Armstrong’s mind.)               much energy—up to ten thousand calo-
the hairpin turns of the French Alps                             The cyclists had covered a hundred         ries during a two-hundred-kilometre
that I could smell the tires burning.                        and eight kilometres, much of it over          mountain stage—that, unless some of
Johan Bruyneel, the suave, unflappable                        mountain passes still capped with snow,        it is replaced, his body will run through
director of the United States Postal                         despite temperatures edging into the           all the glycogen (the principal short-
Service Pro Cycling Team, was behind                         nineties. Now the peloton—the term is          term supply of carbohydrates the body
the wheel. Driving at ninety kilometres                      French for “platoon,” and it describes         uses for power) stored in his muscles.
an hour occupied half his attention.                         the pack of riders who make up the             Armstrong hadn’t eaten properly that
The rest was devoted to fiddling with a                       main group in every race—was about to          morning; then he found himself cut off
small television mounted in the dash-                        start one of the most agonizing climbs         from his domestiques—the teammates
board, examining a set of complicated                        in Europe, the pass between Mont Blanc         who, among other things, are responsi-
topographical maps, and talking into                         and Lake Geneva, which is known as             ble for bringing him supplies of food
one of two radio transmitters in the car.                    the Col de Joux Plane. In cycling, climbs      and water during the race. “That was
The first connected Bruyneel to the                           are rated according to how long and            the hardest day of my life on a bike,”
team’s support vehicle, laden with extra                     steep they are: the easiest is category        Armstrong said later. He was lucky to
bicycles, water bottles, power bars, and                     four, the hardest category one. The            finish the day’s stage, and even luckier
other tools and equipment. The second                        seventeen-hundred-metre Joux Plane             to hold on and win the race.
fed into the earpieces of the eight U.S.                     has a special rating, known as hors cate-          “This isn’t just a stage in a race for
Postal Service cyclists who were racing                      gorie, or beyond category; for nearly          Lance,” Bruyneel said now, as Arm-
along the switchbacks ahead of us. The                       twelve kilometres, it rises so sharply         strong approached the bottom of the
entire team could hear every word that                       that it seems a man could get to the top       slope. “He needs to defeat this moun-
Bruyneel said, but most of the time he                       only by helicopter.                            tain to feel ready for the Tour.” This
was talking to just one man: Lance                               “We start the Joux Plane with a lot        time, Bruyneel made sure that the do-
Armstrong.                                                   of respect for this mountain,” Bruyneel        mestiques ferried water, carbohydrate
   We had been on the road for about                         said quietly into his radio. “It is long, it   drinks, and extra power bars to Arm-
three hours and Armstrong was a kilo-                        is hard. Take it easy. If people are break-    strong throughout the day. They peri-
metre in front of us, pedalling so fast                      ing away, let them go. Do you hear me,         odically drifted back to our car and per-
that it was hard to keep up. It was the                      Lance?”                                        formed a kind of high-speed docking
sixth day of the Dauphiné Libéré, a                              “Yes, Johan,” Armstrong replied            maneuver so that Bruyneel could thrust
weeklong race that is run in daily stages.                   flatly. “I remember the mountain.”              water bottles, five or six at a time, into
Armstrong doesn’t enter races like the                           With only a few days remaining in          their outstretched arms.
Dauphiné to win (though often enough                         the 2000 Tour de France, Armstrong                 Last year, Armstrong won the Tour,
he does); he enters to test his legs in                      had what most observers agreed was an          for the third time in a row, by covering
preparation for a greater goal—the                           insurmountable lead when he headed             3,462 kilometres at an average speed of
Tour de France. Since 1998, when he                          toward this pass. He was riding with his       more than forty kilometres an hour—
returned to cycling after almost losing                      two main rivals of that year: Marco            the third-fastest time in the history of
his life to testicular cancer, Armstrong                     Pantani, the best-known Italian cyclist,       the event. In all, during those three
has focussed exclusively on dominat-                         and Jan Ullrich, the twenty-eight-year-        weeks in July, Armstrong spent eighty-
ing the thirty-five-hundred-kilometre,                        old German who won the Tour in                 six hours, seventeen minutes, and twenty-
nearly month-long Tour, which, in the                        1997, and who in the world of cycling          eight seconds on the bike. “Lance al-
world of cycling, matters more than all                      plays the role of Joe Frazier to Arm-          most killed himself training for the last
other races combined. This week, he                          strong’s Ali. As they started to climb,        Tour,” Bruyneel told me. “This year, he
begins a quest to become the fourth                          Armstrong seemed invincible. Halfway           is in even better shape. But the press
                                                                                                                                                         CORBIS SABA

person in the hundred-year-history of                        up, though, he slumped over his han-           still wants to talk about drugs.”
the Tour—the world’s most gruelling                          dlebars, looking as if he had suffered a           It is, of course, hard to write about
test of human endurance—to win four                          stroke, and Ullrich blew right by him.         cycling and not discuss performance-
48                                               Y
                              THE NEW YORKER, JUL 15, 2002

TNY—07/15/02—PAGE 48—133SC.
Armstrong’s heart is almost a third larger than an average man’s; his body seems built for cycling. Photograph by Martin Schoeller.

enhancing drugs, because at times so                           “He is already winning, and is ex-            tronauts. “He has always wanted to test
many of the leading competitors seem                           tremely fit. Still, people always ask that     the boundaries,” she said. Armstrong
to have used them. Strict testing mea-                         one question: How can he do this with-        admits that he was never an easy child.
sures have been in force since 1998,                           out drugs? I understand why people            In his autobiography, “It’s Not About
when the Tour was nearly cancelled                             ask, because our sport has been tainted.      the Bike,” which was written with the
after an assistant for the Festina team                        But Lance has a different trick, and I        journalist Sally Jenkins, he said, “When
was caught with hundreds of vials of                           have watched him do it now for four           I was a boy I invented a game called
erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone that                         years: he just works harder than anyone       fireball, which entailed soaking a tennis
can increase the oxygen supply to the                          else alive.”                                  ball in kerosene, lighting it on fire, and
blood. But the changes have brought                                                                          playing catch with it.”
only limited success: just this May, Ste-
fano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni, two
of Europe’s leading cyclists, were forced
                                                               L    ance Armstrong’s heart is almost a
                                                                    third larger than that of an average
                                                               man. During those rare moments when
                                                                                                                 Armstrong was an outstanding young
                                                                                                             swimmer, and as an adolescent he began
                                                                                                             to enter triathlons. By 1987, when he
to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia,                            he is at rest, it beats about thirty-two      was sixteen, he was also winning bicycle
Italy’s most important race.                                   times a minute—slowly enough so that          races. That year, he was invited to the
    Because Armstrong is the best cy-                          a doctor who knew nothing about him           Cooper Institute, in Dallas, which was
clist in the world, there is an assump-                        would call a hospital as soon as he heard     one of the first centers to recognize the
tion among some of those who follow                            it. (When Armstrong is exerting him-          relationship between fitness and aerobic
the sport that he, too, must use drugs.                        self, his heart rate can edge up above        conditioning. Everyone uses oxygen to
Armstrong has never failed a drug test,                        two hundred beats a minute.) Physi-           break down food into the components
however, and he may well be the most                           cally, he was a prodigy. Born in 1971,        that provide energy; the more oxygen
frequently examined athlete in the his-                        Armstrong was raised by his mother            you are able to use, the more energy you
tory of sports. Whenever he wins a                             in Plano, a drab suburb of Dallas that        will produce, and the faster you can run,
day’s stage, or finishes as one of the top                      he quickly came to despise. He never          ride, or swim. Armstrong was given a
cyclists in a longer race, he is required                      knew his father, and refers to him as         test called the VO2 Max, which is com-
to provide a urine sample. Like other                          “the DNA donor.” He has written that          monly used to assess an athlete’s aero-
professionals, Armstrong is also tested                        “the main thing you need to know about        bic ability: it measures the maximum
randomly throughout the year. (The                             my childhood is that I never had a real       amount of oxygen the lungs can con-
World Anti-Doping Agency, which                                father, but I never sat around wish-          sume during exercise. His levels were
regularly tests athletes, has even ap-                         ing for one, either. . . . I’ve never had a   the highest ever recorded at the clinic.
peared at his home, in Austin, Texas,                          single conversation with my mother            (Currently, they are about eighty-five
at dawn, to demand a urine sample.)                            about him.”                                   millilitres per kilogram of body weight;
Nobody questions Armstrong’s excel-                                He was a willful child and didn’t like    a healthy man might have a VO2 Max
lence. And yet doubts remain: is he re-                        to listen to advice. “I have loved him        of forty.)
ally so gifted that, like Secretariat, he                      every minute of his life, but, God, there         Chris Carmichael, who became his
easily dominates even his most talented                        were times when it was a struggle,” his       coach when Armstrong was still a teen-
competitors?                                                   mother, Linda, told me. She is a de-          ager, told me that even then Armstrong
    “It’s terribly unfair,” Bruyneel told                      mure woman with the kind of big               was among the most remarkable ath-
me as we drove through the mountains.                          blond hair once favored by wives of as-       letes he had ever seen. Not only has his
                                                                                                             cardiovascular strength always been ex-
                                                                                                             ceptional; his body seems specially con-
                                                                                                             structed for cycling. His thigh bones are
                                                                                                             unusually long, for example, which per-
                                                                                                             mits him to apply just the right amount
                                                                                                             of torque to the pedals.
                                                                                                                 Although Armstrong was talented,
                                                                                                             he wasn’t very disciplined. He acted as
                                                                                                             if he had nothing to learn. “I had never
                                                                                                             met him when I took over as his coach,”
                                                                                                             Carmichael told me. “I called him up
                                                                                                             and we talked on the phone. He was
                                                                                                             kind of rude. Not kind of rude. He was
                                                                                                             completely rude. He was, like, ‘So you
                                                                                                             are the new coach—what are you going
                                                                                                             to teach me?’ He just thought he was
                                                                                                             King Shit. I would tell him to wait till
                                                                                                             the end of a race before making a break.
                                  “ You forget what the sand smells like, then you remember                  He just couldn’t do that. He would get
                                      and swear you’ll never leave, then you get bored.”                     out in front and set the pace. He would

TNY—07/15/02—PAGE 50—133SC.—LIVE OPI—A6756—133SC.
burn up the field, and when other riders
came alive he would be done, spent.”
Still, Armstrong did well in one-day
races, in which bursts of energy count
as much as patience or tactical preci-
sion. In 1991, after several years of in-
creasingly impressive performances, he
became the U.S. amateur champion,
and the next year he turned pro. In
1993, he became the youngest man ever
to win a stage in the Tour de France; he
won the World Road Championships
the same year.
    In 1996, Armstrong signed a con-
tract with the French cycling team
Cofidis, for a salary of more than two
million dollars over two years. He had
a beautiful new home in Austin, and
a Porsche that he liked to drive fast.
Then, in September, he became unusu-
ally weak and felt soreness in one of
his testicles. Since soreness is a part of
any cyclist’s life, he didn’t give it much
thought. One night later that month,                                                                                            •          •
however, several days after his twenty-
fifth birthday, he felt something metal-                                                    left burns on his skin from the inside       I’m quitting.’ My coaching side just
lic in his throat while he was talking                                                     out. Cofidis, convinced that Armstrong’s      wanted to scream.”
on the phone. He put his friend on                                                         career (and perhaps his life) was over,          Carmichael and Bill Stapleton, Arm-
hold, and ran into the bathroom. “I                                                        told his agent while he was still in the     strong’s close friend and agent, helped
coughed into the sink,” he later wrote.                                                    hospital that it wanted to reconsider the    persuade him that this wasn’t the way
“It splattered with blood. I coughed                                                       terms of his contract. That may have         to end his career. “We said, ‘You will
again, and spit up another stream of                                                       turned out to be the worst bet in the his-   look back on this and be disappointed—
red. I couldn’t believe the mass of blood                                                  tory of sports.                              you are going out as a quitter,’ ” Car-
and clotted matter had come from my                                                            Armstrong did recover, but his first      michael told me. Armstrong agreed to
own body.”                                                                                 attempts to return to competition ended      prepare for one last race, in the United
    Within a week, Armstrong had sur-                                                      in exhaustion and depression. “In an         States. He, Carmichael, and a friend
gery to remove the cancerous testicle.                                                     odd way, having cancer was easier than       went to Boone, a small town in North
By then, the disease had spread to his                                                     recovery—at least in chemo I was doing       Carolina where Armstrong liked to
lungs, abdomen, and brain. He needed                                                       something, instead of just waiting for       train. “Early April,” Carmichael re-
brain surgery and the most aggressive                                                      it to come back,” he wrote. In 1998, he      called. “The first day was nice. Then
type of chemotherapy. “At that point,                                                      decided to make a more serious effort to     the weather turned ugly. I would fol-
he had a minority chance of living                                                         return to racing. Again, he couldn’t stick   low behind in the car as they trained.
another year,” Craig Nichols, who was                                                      with it. “The comeback was still amaz-       One day, we were to finish at the top
Armstrong’s principal oncologist, told                                                     ingly risky,” Carmichael told me. “There     of Beech Mountain. It was a long ride,
me. “We cure at most a third of the                                                        wasn’t a doctor on this earth who could      a hundred-plus miles, then the ride to
people in situations like that.” A profes-                                                 say that Lance Armstrong’s lungs weren’t     the top. Something happened on that
sor at Oregon Health Sciences Univer-                                                      fucked up, the cancer wasn’t going to        mountain. He just dropped his partner
sity who specializes in testicular can-                                                    come back. Nobody said, ‘You will be         and he went for it. He was racing. It
cer, Nichols has remained a friend and                                                     successful and, by the way, you will win     was weird. I was following behind him
is an adviser to the Lance Armstrong                                                       the Tour.’ He was afraid, so he just quit.   in the car. This cold rain was now a wet
Foundation, which supports cancer re-                                                      I was shocked. He beats cancer. Goes         snow. And I rolled down the window
search. Nichols described Armstrong as                                                     to hell and back. Goes to Europe. Trains     and I was honking the horn and yell-
the “most willful person I have ever                                                       his ass off. Trained harder than ever.       ing, ‘Go, Lance, go!’ He was attacking
met.” And, he said, “he wasn’t willing to                                                  In the Ruta del Sol”—a five-day race          and cranking away as though we were
die.” Armstrong underwent four rounds                                                      held each year in Spain—“he was four-        in the Tour. Nobody was around. No
of chemotherapy so powerful that the                                                       teenth. He had never done better, even       human being. Not even a cow. He got
chemicals destroyed his musculature                                                        before cancer, and all indications were      up to the top of that mountain and I
and caused permanent kidney damage;                                                        that he was on the verge of the greatest     said, ‘O.K., I’ll load the bike on the
in the final treatments, the chemicals                                                      comeback in sports, and he said, ‘Hey,       car and we can go home.’ He said, ‘Give
                                                                                                                                        THE NEW YORKER, JUL 15, 2002          51

me my rain jacket—I’m riding back.’                          Armstrong replied. In other words, Vic-         strong, safely tucked into a cocoon of
Another thirty miles. That was all he                        tor Hugo Peña, a promising young                teammates, can cruise just a few yards
said. It was like throwing on a light                        Colombian climber on the team, seemed           behind the leader and be “pulled” at
switch.”                                                     strong enough to lead Armstrong over            essentially the same speed, conserving
                                                             one of the big peaks that the racers            energy for later.

A     rmstrong now says that cancer was
      the best thing that ever happened
to him. Before becoming ill, he didn’t
                                                             would encounter before the Col de Joux
                                                             Plane. Riders like Hugo Peña “work”
                                                             for Armstrong; they are not attempt-
                                                                                                                 The peloton can cover up to two hun-
                                                                                                             dred and fifty kilometres a day without
                                                                                                             stopping, like a rolling army; there is a
care about strategy or tactics or team-                      ing to win the race themselves but,             “feed zone” about halfway through each
work—and nobody (no matter what his                          rather, focussing on preventing another         stage, where cyclists slow down enough
abilities) becomes a great cyclist with-                     team from defeating Armstrong. Their            to be draped with a cloth pouch, called a
out mastering those aspects of the sport.                    job is to patrol the peloton. If a compet-      musette, which is filled with fruit, power
Despite Armstrong’s brilliant early start                    ing star tries to escape from the pack          bars, and other high-carbohydrate snacks.
in the 1993 Tour, for example, he didn’t                     in a breakaway, they must be ready to           The team members take turns “work-
even finish the race; he dropped out                          chase him down, in order to tire him out        ing,” or pulling, at the front to give each
when the teams entered the most diffi-                        and make him less of a threat later in          other a rest. (Even competitors, when
cult mountain phase, in the Alps. (He                        the race.                                       they ride together, take turns out front,
also failed to finish in 1994 and 1996.)                          Until it is time to sprint, climb, or at-   sharing the advantages of drafting.) In
    As Carmichael pointed out to me,                         tempt a breakaway, there is usually at          some ways, cycling retains an odd chiv-
Armstrong had always been gifted, but                        least one team rider positioned in front        alry that is more readily associated with
“genetically he is not alone. He is near                     of his leader. Riding directly behind           the trenches of the First World War.
the top but not at the top. I have seen                      another man—which is called draft-              During last year’s Tour, for instance, at a
people better than Lance that never go                       ing—can save a skilled cyclist as much          crucial moment in the Pyrenees, Jan Ull-
anywhere. Before Lance had cancer, we                        as forty per cent of his energy. Asker          rich veered off the road and into a ditch;
argued all the time. He never trained                        Jeukendrup, a physiologist who directs          Armstrong waited for him to get back
right. He just relied on his gift. He would                  the Human Performance Laboratory at             on his bike and catch up. Ullrich almost
do what you asked for two weeks, then                        the University of Birmingham, has car-          certainly would have done the same for
flake off and do his own thing for a                          ried out extensive studies of the energy        him. When a leader needs to urinate,
month or two. And then a big race would                      expended by cyclists when they race.            the whole pack slows down. It is an un-
be coming up and he would call me up,                        Several years ago, Jeukendrup attached          spoken but very clear element of the eti-
all tense, telling me, ‘God, I have got to                   power meters to the bicycles of several         quette of professional cycling that no-
start training, and you guys better start                    Tour participants during critical stages.       body is permitted to benefit by breaking
sending me some programs.’ I would say,                      A power meter records a rider’s heart           away while an opponent urinates (or,
‘Lance, you don’t just start preparing                       rate, his pedal cadence, his speed, and,        worse yet, when part of the peloton is
things four weeks before a race. This is                     most important, the watts that he gen-          caught at a train crossing). Anyone who
a long process.’ ”                                           erates with every turn of the wheels.           did would be unlikely to finish the race.
    Cycling is, above all, a team sport,                     (Watts provide the most accurate mea-           After all, it takes little to knock a man off
and the tactics involved are as compli-                      surement of the intensity of exercise;          a bicycle, particularly at high speeds; this
cated as those of baseball or basketball.                    heart rates vary and so does speed. The         is called flicking, from the German
“Ever try to explain the infield-fly rule to                   amount of work needed to climb a hill           ficken—which means “to fuck.”
somebody?” Armstrong asked me when                           remains the same no matter how fast                 Apart from the Olympics and World
we were in Texas, where he lives when he                     you ride.)                                      Cup soccer, the Tour is the most popular
is not racing or training in Europe. “You                        Jeukendrup recorded the effort ex-          sporting event in Europe. In France, July
have to watch it to get it. As soon as you                   pended by a cyclist riding for six hours        is a carnival, complete with thousands of
pay some attention to the tactics, cycling                   at forty kilometres an hour in the mid-         cars, buses, motorcycles, and helicopters
makes a lot of sense.”                                       dle of the peloton, shielded from the           following the Tour, and daily television
    Riding through the French moun-                          wind. He compared this figure with the           coverage. This year, at least fifteen mil-
tains with Bruyneel, a genial thirty-                        power needed to propel that same man            lion people—a quarter of the country’s
seven-year-old who has been with U.S.                        riding alone. In the pack, the cyclist          population—are expected to line the
Postal since 1999, soon after Armstrong                      used an average of ninety-eight watts—          highways to watch the cyclists whiz by in
joined the team, I saw what he meant.                        which would never tire a well-trained           a blurred instant. Every morning, kids
(Armstrong’s athletic advisers comple-                       professional. On his own, however, the          mass outside the team buses, begging
ment each other: Carmichael is the                           cyclist expended an average of two hun-         for autographs. If a spectator is lucky,
physical strategist, and Bruyneel the tac-                   dred and seventy-five watts—nearly               someone in the peloton will toss a used
tician.) “It looks like Victor is good                       three times the power—to maintain the           water bottle his way; it is the cycling
today, so let’s save him a bit longer                        same speed. It is easy to see what this         world’s version of a foul ball.
for the Colombiere,” Bruyneel radioed                        means: in any race, the guy out front is            The Tour de France is exactly what
to Armstrong about halfway through                           often suffering in his attempt to lead          its name suggests: a tour of France. The
the day’s ride. “Sounds like a good idea,”                   the peloton, while somebody like Arm-           race takes place over the course of three
52                                               Y
                              THE NEW YORKER, JUL 15, 2002

TNY—07/15/02—PAGE 52—133SC.
weeks, with a day or two of rest, and the      as helping your team win, you will get        people. (At the beginning of the Tour,
course is altered slightly each year, so       more out of that than simply riding and       Armstrong’s body fat is around four or
that it passes through different villages.     losing. It’s fun to be part of a winning      five per cent; this season, Shaquille
Each day, there is a new stage; when all       team.” And it is also profitable; even         O’Neal, the most powerful player in the
the stages have been completed, the            a journeyman cyclist can make a hun-          N.B.A., boasted that his body-fat level
man with the fastest cumulative time           dred thousand dollars a year. (This is        was sixteen per cent.)
wins. (This year’s Tour will be the short-     nothing like what the winners make, of            The Tour de France has been de-
est in its history; some people believe        course; between his salary and the en-        scribed as the equivalent of running
this is an attempt to reduce Armstrong’s       dorsements, Armstrong earned about            twenty marathons in twenty days. Dur-
advantage.) As a commercial and logis-         fifteen million dollars last year.) Still,     ing the nineteen-eighties and nineties,
tical endeavor, the Tour could be com-         there comes a point when a talented cy-       Wim H. M. Saris, a professor of nutri-
pared to a Presidential campaign or the        clist no longer wants to occupy a sup-        tion at the University of Maastricht,
Super Bowl. Its budget is in the tens of       porting role and tries to establish himself   conducted a study of human endurance
millions of dollars, and the winner re-        as a potential leader. For several years,     by following participants in the Tour. “It
ceives close to four hundred thousand          Armstrong’s deputy on the U.S. Postal         is without any doubt the most demand-
dollars. The money comes from location         team was his friend Tyler Hamilton.           ing athletic event,” he told me. “For one
fees, paid by towns that host a stage, and     This year, with Armstrong’s encourage-        day, two days—sure, you may find some-
from advertising revenues and broad-           ment, Hamilton began riding for a Dan-        thing that expends more energy. But for
cast licenses. The Tour is treated as if       ish competitor, CSC Tiscali, and, as one      three weeks? Never.”
it were its own sovereign state within         of its leaders, he placed second in the           Looking at a wide range of physical
France: it has a police force and a travel-    Giro d’Italia.                                activities, Saris and his colleagues mea-
ling bank (the only one in the country             The physical demands on competi-          sured the metabolic demands made on
open on Bastille Day). The entourage           tive cyclists are immense. One day, they      people engaged in each of them. “On
includes riders, mechanics, masseurs,          will have to ride two hundred kilometres      average, the cyclists expend sixty-five
managers, doctors, cooks, journalists,         through the mountains; the next day           hundred calories a day for three weeks,
and race officials. Each team starts the        there might be a long, flat sprint lasting     with peak days of ten thousand calo-
race with nine riders (though it is com-       seven hours. Because cyclists have such a     ries,” he said. “If you are sedentary, you
mon for as many as half to drop out),          low percentage of body fat, they are          are burning perhaps twenty-five hun-
who usually work to further the goals of       more susceptible to infections than other     dred calories a day. Active people might
their leader, like Armstrong or Ull-
rich—who injured his knee earlier this
year and will not compete.
    Since individual excellence can get
one only so far in a race of this magnitude,
it is also crucial to have the right team,
to provide organization, finances, and
experience. U.S. Postal has all that; it is,
in its way, pro cycling’s Yankees—with
climbing specialists, sprinters, and a
powerful bench.This is why so many cy-
clists agree to work as domestiques, put-
ting their success second to Armstrong’s.
“You work for a teammate who is older
and more experienced,” Victor Hugo
Peña told me late one day between stages
of the Dauphiné.
    I was curious why a talented cyclist
would agree to play such a role. “It is an
apprenticeship—you have to learn the
business,” Hugo Peña said. “If you get
respect, work well, and are good, you
move up.” Armstrong himself worked as
a domestique when he was starting out.
He told me that he finds the system re-
assuring. Bruyneel, who was a successful
professional, and won two stages in the
Tour, agreed. “What does a man gain
from riding for himself and coming in
fiftieth?” he said. “If you see your job                              “When I was your age, I was fifteen.”

TNY—07/15/02—PAGE 53—LIVE OPI—A7589—133SC.
“I have seen people better than Lance that never go anywhere,” his coach said. “Before Lance had cancer, we argued all the time. He

burn as many as thirty-five hundred.”                                                                            than five. In fact, only four species are       raise money for the Lance Armstrong
    Saris compared the metabolic rates                                                                          known to have higher rates on Saris’s          Foundation. This required him to take
of professional cyclists while they were                                                                        energy index than the professional cy-         the Concorde from Paris to New York,
riding with those of a variety of animal                                                                        clists in his study: a small Australian pos-   change planes, and, once he’d landed in
species, and he created a kind of energy                                                                        sum, a macaroni penguin, a large seabird       Austin, drive to an afternoon photo
index—dividing daily expenditure of                                                                             called a gannet, and one species of mar-       shoot. Then he signed books, cycling
energy by resting metabolic rate. This                                                                          supial mouse.                                  jerseys, and posters for cancer survivors
figure turned out to range from one to                                                                                                                          and sponsors of the foundation. After
seven. An active male rates about two on
Saris’s index and an average professional                                                                       T    his spring, Armstrong, who doesn’t
                                                                                                                     relax much to begin with, was
                                                                                                                                                               that, he went to a fund-raising dinner. A
                                                                                                                                                               few hours later, the foundation’s annual

cyclist four and a half. Almost no species                                                                      spending up to thirty-five hours a week         charity weekend, the Ride for the Roses,
can survive with a number that is greater                                                                       on his bicycle. When I met him, in             would officially begin, with an outdoor
than five. For example, the effort made                                                                          April, he had just flown to Austin from         rock concert at the Austin Auditorium
by birds foraging for food sometimes                                                                            Europe, where he had been racing, for a        Shores arena. But Armstrong was feel-
kills them, and they scored a little more                                                                       forty-eight-hour “drop-in,” in order to        ing restless; he hadn’t been on his bicycle
54                                                       Y
                                      THE NEW YORKER, JUL 15, 2002

                                                                                                              and to adhere so rigidly to his training       ing right off him,” he said.“When Lance
                                                                                                              schedules. “Depends whether you want           shows up, people are delirious. They love
                                                                                                              to win,” he replied. “I do. The Tour is a      the guy. His life is like an Alamo-level
                                                                                                              two-thousand-mile race, and people             myth, and everybody loves a myth, par-
                                                                                                              sometimes win by one minute. Or less.          ticularly in Texas.”
                                                                                                              One minute in nearly a month of suffer-            Armstrong tries to resist being de-
                                                                                                              ing isn’t that much. So the people who         scribed as a hero of any kind.“I want my
                                                                                                              win are the ones willing to suffer the         kids to grow up and be normal,” he told
                                                                                                              most.” Suffering is to cyclists what poll      me, backstage at the concert, as he ten-
                                                                                                              data are to politicians; they rely on it to    tatively ate exactly two Dorito chips. He
                                                                                                              tell them how well they are doing their        and his wife, Kristin, have three chil-
                                                                                                              job. Like many of his competitors in the       dren: a son, Luke, who is two, and twin
                                                                                                              peloton, Armstrong seems to love pain,         girls, Isabelle and Grace, born last year.“I
                                                                                                              and even to crave it.                          want them to think their father worked
                                                                                                                  “Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so   hard for what he got, not that it was the
                                                                                                              intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing,” he   result of some kind of magic,” Arm-
                                                                                                              wrote in his autobiography. “The pain          strong said.
                                                                                                              is so deep and strong that a curtain de-
                                                                                                              scends over your brain. . . . Once, some-
                                                                                                              one asked me what pleasure I took in
                                                                                                              riding for so long. ‘Pleasure?’ I said. ‘I
                                                                                                                                                             T     hree types of riders succeed in long
                                                                                                                                                                   stage races like the Tour de France:
                                                                                                                                                             those who excel at climbing but are only
                                                                                                              don’t understand the question.’ I didn’t       adequate in time trials, in which a cyclist
                                                                                                              do it for pleasure. I did it for pain.” Arm-   races alone against the clock; those who
                                                                                                              strong mentioned suffering (favorably)         can win time trials but struggle in the
                                                                                                              in each of my conversations with him.          mountains; and cyclists who are moder-
                                                                                                              Even his weekend in Texas, which was           ately good at both. Now there appears
                                                                                                              ostensibly time off from the grinding          to be a fourth group: Armstrong. He has
                                                                                                              spring training schedule, seemed de-           become the best climber in the world, al-
                                                                                                              signed to drive him to the brink of ex-        though he wasn’t much of one in his
                                                                                                              haustion; there were dozens of meet-           early years. And there is no cyclist better
                                                                                                              ings with donors, cancer survivors, and        at time trials. He lost nearly twenty
                                                                                                              friends. On Sunday, he led the founda-         pounds when he was sick, but he is no
                                                                                                              tion’s annual ride with his friend Robin       less powerful and is therefore faster. Still,
                                                                                                              Williams, a surprisingly fit and aggres-        many people have wondered how, so
                                                                                                              sive cyclist. Williams and Armstrong           soon after a nearly fatal illness, he man-
                                                                                                              rode at a fairly rapid pace for about two      aged to take such complete control of
                                                                                                              hours, at which point a car suddenly           the sport.
                                                                                                              pulled up alongside them on the high-              “After the cancer, Lance got a second
                                                                                                              way. Armstrong hopped off his bike,            chance,” Carmichael explained to me.
                                                                                                              climbed in, and was driven to the air-         “It was that simple. You get a second
                                                                                                              port to catch a plane for New York and         chance at something that you took for
                                                                                                              then Paris. During his forty-eight-hour        granted before and all of a sudden you
never trained right. He just relied on his gift.”                                                             drop-in, the Lance Armstrong Founda-           see everything you could have lost.When
                                                                                                              tion raised nearly three million dollars.      he came back, he just went into a differ-
      for nearly a day. So he changed, and                                                                        In Austin, Lance (other than Dubya,        ent zone. He works as if he is possessed.
      went for a thirty-five-mile spin. At                                                                     he is the only one-name Texan) has a           It’s a little bit nutty, in fact, what he puts
      eight-thirty that evening, he was stand-                                                                more devoted following than Bush, Lyle         himself through so that he can win the
      ing backstage at the benefit concert,                                                                    Lovett, and the Texas Longhorns foot-          Tour de France each year.” As a young
      which featured Cake and the Stone                                                                       ball team combined. One night during           man, Carmichael was an Olympic cy-
      Temple Pilots. I met up with him there;                                                                 my weekend in Austin, I drove over to          clist himself, but he almost died in a
      Armstrong, who is surprisingly slight,                                                                  Chuy’s, an informal Tex-Mex place that is      freakish skiing accident, in 1986. He re-
      wore jeans, sandals, and a Nike golf cap.                                                               one of Armstrong’s favorite local restau-      turned to competition, but something
      He didn’t seem a bit tired.                                                                             rants. (It was famous locally even before      was gone. While he was trying to figure
         Every ounce of fat, bone, and muscle                                                                 a hardworking bartender carded Presi-          out what to do next, he took a job coach-
      on Armstrong’s body is regularly inven-                                                                 dent Bush’s nineteen-year-old daughter         ing the United States national team. He
      toried, analyzed, and accounted for. I                                                                  Jenna.) Armstrong has a weakness for           has now been training people for fifteen
      asked him if he felt it was necessary to                                                                Chuy’s burritos. I asked my waiter what        years. He works with many élite athletes
      endure the daily prodding and poking                                                                    he thought of Armstrong. “When he              in addition to Armstrong—runners,
      required to provide all this information,                                                               walks in here, you can feel the buzz com-      hockey players, even one Indy driver—
                                                                                                                                                             THE NEW YORKER, JUL 15, 2002               55

and also with thousands who just want                                                            home about five or six o’clock, in time for    scheduled a rest day and urged Arm-
to ride faster every Sunday with their                                                           a quick dinner—a protein-carb smoothie,       strong to stay off his bicycle.“He almost
local club. He has a company, Car-                                                               a little pasta. Then it is time for bed.”     never listens when I tell him to do that,”
michael Training Systems, based in Col-                                                              During the cycling season, Arm-           Carmichael said. “But I tell him any-
orado Springs, that employs more than                                                            strong calculates each watt he has burned     way.” Tuesday was an easy day: a two-
seventy-five coaches; his clients, includ-                                                        on his bike and then uses a digital scale     hour ride, maintaining an approximate
ing Armstrong, log on to the company                                                             to weigh every morsel of food that            heart rate of a hundred and thirty-five
Web site to find their latest training                                                            passes his lips. This way, he knows ex-       beats a minute. The next day was more
instructions.                                                                                    actly how many calories he needs to           typical: five hours over rolling terrain,
    Carmichael believes that rigorous                                                            get through the day. When he is racing,       with a heart rate of about a hundred and
training is what ultimately turns a tal-                                                         his meals are gargantuan. (It took three      fifty-five beats a minute and an average
ented athlete into a star.“Who hits more                                                         men to lug the team’s rations—boxes           effort of three hundred and twenty watts.
practice balls every day than any other                                                          full of cereal, bread, yogurt, eggs, fruit,   Friday was a slow ride for two hours.
golfer?” Carmichael asked.“Guess what?                                                           honey, chocolate spread, jam, peanut          Then, on Saturday, Armstrong rode for
It’s Tiger Woods. Well, Lance trains                                                             butter, and other snacks—into the hotel       four hours with two climbs, each lasting
more than his competitors. He was the                                                            breakfast room during the Dauphiné.)          about half an hour, during which he kept
first to go out and actually ride the impor-                                                     On days when a race begins at noon or         a heart rate of a hundred and seventy-
tant Tour stages in advance. He doesn’t                                                          later, Armstrong will eat two heaping         five beats a minute with a power expen-
just wake up in July and say,‘God, I hope                                                        plates of pasta and perhaps a power bar       diture of about four hundred watts.
I am ready for this race.’ He knows he is                                                        three hours before the race, after having     After that, Carmichael had him draft at
ready, because he has whipped himself                                                            had a full breakfast.                         a fast rate behind a motorcycle for two
all year long.”                                                                                      When I visited Carmichael in Col-         hours without a break. In addition,
    Armstrong describes his bike as his                                                          orado Springs, he showed me Arm-              Armstrong always stretches for about an
office.“It’s my job,” he told me.“I love it,                                                      strong’s training schedule for a few          hour a day, and during the off-season he
and I wouldn’t ride if I didn’t. But it’s in-                                                    weeks this spring. On April 28th, a           spends hours in the gym, improving his
credibly hard work, full of sacrifices.                                                           Sunday, Armstrong competed in the             core strength.“Nobody else puts himself
And you have to be able to go out there                                                          Amstel Gold, a one-day annual World           through this,” Carmichael said.“Nobody
every single day.” In the morning, he                                                            Cup race in Holland. He finished fourth,       would dare.”
rises, eats, and gets on his bike; some-                                                         covering the two-hundred-and-fifty-
times, before a particularly long day, he
waits to eat again (in order to store up
carbohydrates) before taking off. “We
                                                                                                 four-kilometre course (which included
                                                                                                 thirty-three climbs) in six hours, forty-
                                                                                                 nine minutes, and seventeen seconds.
                                                                                                                                               I   have been riding a bicycle since I
                                                                                                                                                   was a boy, and over the years, as the
                                                                                                                                               technology improved, I kept trading up,
schedule his daily workouts to leave late                                                        His average speed was 37.32 k.p.h., the       from heavy steel to aluminum, and then
in the morning, so that he can ride for six                                                      same as that of the winner, who beat          to titanium. Only once have I travelled
hours,” Carmichael said. “He returns                                                             him by about three feet. Carmichael           more than a hundred miles in a day; I
                                                                                                                                               have never entered a race (or wanted
                                                                                                                                               to), and I don’t ride particularly fast. Yet,
                                                                                                                                               like a lot of middle-aged cycling enthu-
                                                                                                                                               siasts, I now have a bicycle that is far
                                                                                                                                               better than I am and I have become a
                                                                                                                                               fetishistic devotee of the sport. I have
                                                                                                                                               never quite permitted myself to attend
                                                                                                                                               bicycle camp or to take lessons from a
                                                                                                                                               bicycle mechanic (though I have con-
                                                                                                                                               sidered both). But I have never seen
                                                                                                                                               Campagnolo gears, an aerodynamically
                                                                                                                                               advanced set of wheels, or a compli-
                                                                                                                                               cated cycle computer that I didn’t want
                                                                                                                                               to buy. My apartment is littered with
                                                                                                                                               catalogues advertising “carbon titanium
                                                                                                                                               supercycles,” and bicycling magazines
                                                                                                                                               with stories about obscure pro races.
                                                                                                                                                   Every month or two, Carmichael
                                                                                                                                               tests Armstrong’s capacity to generate
                                                                                                                                               power—or watts—and, when I told him
                                                                                                                                               that I rode a lot, he suggested that if he
                                                                                                                                               tested me in the same way I might have
                                                                                                                                               a better sense of what these measures re-
                                                                                                                                               ally meant.

                                                                                               michael what I should do when I reached
                                                                                               the top.“You won’t be seeing the top,” he
                                          TO ASHES                                             had said.) I turned the bike around and
                                                                                               met up with Carmichael, and we coasted
                              All the green trees bring                                        most of the way back to the office. Then
                              their rings to you                                               we looked at my data: I had generated an
                              the widening                                                     average of two hundred watts on the
                              circles of their years to you                                    test, and had climbed exactly one mile.
                              late and soon casting                                            Carmichael told me that a decent pro
                              down their crowns and into                                       cyclist would have put out at least four
                              you at once they are gone                                        hundred watts, and that the stragglers
                              not to appear                                                    at the end of the peloton (known as the
                              as themselves again                                              gruppetto) would clock in at perhaps
                                                                                               three hundred and fifty. Armstrong—in
                              oh season of your own                                            top Tour shape—would have come close
                                                                                               to five hundred.
                              from whom now even                                                   I stared at the graph of my perfor-
                              the fire has moved on                                             mance, which Carmichael and his col-
                              out of the green voices                                          leagues had printed out for me. I had
                              and the days of summer                                           managed to generate four hundred and
                              out of the spoken                                                seventy watts for just ten seconds. That’s
                              names and the words between them                                 about average for Armstrong over the
                              the mingled nights the hands                                     course of a four-hour ride.
                              the hope the faces                                                   After that humbling experience, I
                              those circling ages dancing                                      went across town to see Edmund Burke,
                              in flames as we see now                                           a former physiologist for the U.S. Olym-
                              afterward                                                        pic cycling team, who has written sev-
                              here before you                                                  eral books on training for cyclists (in-
                                                                                               cluding one with Carmichael). “I think
                              oh you with no                                                   the genius of Chris is that he under-
                              beginning that we can conceive of                                stands how much small gains matter,”
                              no end that we can foresee                                       Burke said. “In fact, small gains are all
                              you of whom                                                      you will ever see. People will say, ‘You
                              once we were made                                                have shown only half a per cent of
                              before we knew ourselves                                         improvement.’ Well, half a per cent is
                                                                                               huge. I am not talking marketing or sales
                              in this season of our own                                        here. I am talking about élite athletic
                                                  —W. S. Merwin                                    Carmichael takes nothing for granted
                                                                                               and relies heavily on technology. (He
                                                                                               noted with approval, for instance, that
   Our plan was to cruise up into the             go. Carmichael got off his bike. “Now        Greg LeMond won the Tour by just
mountains not far from Carmichael’s of-           the test begins,” he said. He pointed at     eight seconds, on the last day of the race,
fice, in a converted grain barn in down-           the mountain slope—it wasn’t as steep        in 1989. He was the first cyclist in the
town Colorado Springs. The wind was               as some of the slopes in France, but it      Tour to use aerodynamically tapered
strong enough so that he asked if I               looked unconquerable nonetheless—            handlebars for the final time trial. “It
wanted to reconsider. The answer was              and said, “I want you to ride as fast as     made all the difference,” Carmichael
yes, of course, but that’s not what I said.       you can up that road for ten minutes         said. “Technology might not win you
We rode for about five miles through               and then come back.”                         the Tour. But why wouldn’t you want
the thin air six thousand feet above sea             I was seriously winded within two         to have the best chances possible?”)
level. Carmichael chatted the whole               minutes. My legs were burning within         Every few months, Armstrong trains in
time—about pedal motion, femur length             five. I remember watching four men and        a wind tunnel, which allows Carmichael
(the longer the better, since length im-          women climbing a steep rock face and         to measure his aerodynamic efficiency
proves leverage), gearing choices, and the        rappelling down. They waved at me, but       under a variety of conditions. He will
finer details of carbon-fibre technology.           I was far too light-headed to risk lifting   push his seat back a centimetre or his
I gasped and answered only when I                 an arm from the handlebars. Finally, I       stem up a few millimetres. (Each ad-
had to. We rode into North Cheyenne               couldn’t take it anymore. (I managed to      justment is a trade-off between power
Cañon until, finally, it looked as if we           continue for eight minutes and thirty-       and speed; when you sit farther back,
had ridden as far as he could ask me to           two seconds. Naïvely, I had asked Car-       you can use more of your leg muscles,
                                                                                               THE NEW YORKER, JUL 15, 2002            57

TNY—07/15/02—PAGE 57—133SC.
but you also expose more of your body                        is clear; in 2000, he made a television ad    good, you have to let him go.”) It would
to the resistance of the air.)                               for Nike in which he said, “Everybody         have been understandable—maybe even
    Carmichael takes the same radical                        wants to know what I’m on. What am I          smart—for Armstrong to take it slow
approach to the physical limits of en-                       on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six        just a few weeks before the Tour. Yet
durance. It had long been assumed, for                       hours a day. What are you on?”                clearly he wasn’t going to be satisfied un-
example, that aerobic power doesn’t vary                         If the French don’t approve of Arm-       less he also took this stage.
greatly in adults. Carmichael refutes this                   strong, it is not only—or even princi-            “Good job, Lance!” Bruyneel cheered
emphatically.“Look at Lance,” he said to                     pally—because they suspect him of             into the radio.“Go! Go! Go!” Armstrong
me in his office one day. Over the past                       using drugs. They don’t believe that he       picked up speed; he was dropping his
eight years, through specific programs                        suffers enough. French intellectuals love     opponents one by one.“Moreau is done,
aimed at building endurance and speed,                       the agony displayed on the roads each         Lance, he is over!” Bruyneel shouted into
Armstrong has increased this critical                        July in the same way that American            the radio as Armstrong whizzed by
value—his aerobic power—by sixteen                           writers love to wail over the fate of the     Christophe Moreau, the lead rider for
per cent. That means he saves almost                         Red Sox. Thirty years ago, before much        Crédit Agricole. “Go if you can. But,
four minutes in a sixty-kilometre time                       was known about sports nutrition, riders      remember, the mountain is not your
trial.                                                       would finish the race—if they could—           friend.”
    In fact, Armstrong is superior to                        having lost twenty pounds, their eyes             “Kivilev is dropped, Kivilev is
other athletes in two respects: he can                       vacant even in victory. Armstrong rep-        dropped!” Bruyneel screamed, as Arm-
rely on his aerobic powers longer, and                       resents a new kind of athlete. He has         strong began to pedal faster. “Lance,
his anaerobic abilities are unusually high                   been at the forefront of a technological      get on Menchov’s wheel. He is a great
as well. When muscles begin to work                          renaissance that has made European cy-        train to the top.” Denis Menchov, of
beyond their aerobic ability, they pro-                      cling purists uncomfortable. Referring        the team, is a fine climber.
duce lactic acid, which eventually accu-                     to the gulf that now exists between the       Bruyneel had hoped that Armstrong
mulates and causes a burning sensation                       race and the racers, the French philoso-      would glide in behind him and con-
well known to anyone who has ever run                        pher Robert Redeker has written, “The         serve energy on the way up. Instead,
too far or too fast. Somehow, though,                        athletic type represented by Lance            Armstrong blew past Menchov, and
Armstrong produces less lactic acid than                     Armstrong, unlike Fausto Coppi or Jean        then overtook the last two men be-
others do, and metabolizes it more ef-                       Robic”—two cycling heroes from a              tween him and the summit. He wove
fectively. “For whatever physiological                       generation ago—“is coming closer to           through the fans gathered at the top of
reason—and science can’t really explain                      Lara Croft, the virtually fabricated          the mountain.
it, because we don’t know that much                          cyber-heroine. Cycling is becoming a              Armstrong shifted into a higher gear
about what is occurring—the effect is                        video game; the onetime ‘prisoners of         to descend, and suddenly he was in trou-
clear,” Carmichael said. “Lance goes on                      the road’ have become virtual human           ble. His radio stopped working, his leg
when others are done.”                                       beings . . . Robocop on wheels, some-         began to cramp, and Kivilev and Moreau
                                                             one no fan can relate to or identify          were gaining on him. ‘Twenty-seven

A     t the end of last year’s Tour, the
      French sports newspaper L’Équipe
ran an article with the headline “SHOULD
                                                                 “It’s so funny to hear people talk that
                                                             way about Lance,” Craig Nichols, Arm-
                                                                                                           seconds,” Bruyneel said. He was scream-
                                                                                                           ing. “Lance, they are gaining!” We could
                                                                                                           see the little ski resort of Morzine in the
WE BELIEVE IN ARMSTRONG?,” suggest-                          strong’s oncologist, told me. “The fact is    near distance. Chalets were built every-
ing it was time to consider the possibility                  that no cyclist can have seen more pain       where into the steep slopes of the moun-
that, since Armstrong has never been                         than he has. The hard work and the in-        tain. The thickening wall of fans sug-
found guilty of doping, he may indeed                        convenience of the Tour just can’t scare      gested that we must be near the end, but
be innocent.                                                 him, because he has been through so           we were driving so fast that it was hard
   After I watched Armstrong train and                       much worse.”                                  to tell.
spent time with his coaches, the only                                                                          Incredibly, Bruyneel drove right up
way I could be convinced that he uses il-
legal drugs would be to see him inject
them. After all, the doubts about him
                                                             D    espite Bruyneel’s warning not to
                                                                  push himself on the treacherous
                                                             slope of the Col de Joux Plane, Arm-
                                                                                                           beside Armstrong. He was in pain and
                                                                                                           was massaging his thigh while pedalling
                                                                                                           as fast as he could. “Six seconds!” Bruy-
have always been a function of his ex-                       strong was spinning the pedals a hun-         neel shouted out the window at full
cellence. Greg LeMond, America’s first                        dred times a minute, faster than any          speed. “Move! ”
Tour de France champion (he has also                         other competitor. (This cadence is a              Armstrong barrelled across the finish
won three times), put it well, if some-                      technique that he, Carmichael, and Bruy-      line, six seconds before his rivals. He got
what uncharitably, after Armstrong won                       neel have been working on for years.)         off his bike and hobbled directly into a
the 2001 Tour: “If Lance is clean, it is                     With just two days to go, Armstrong           tent that had been set up for drug test-
the greatest comeback in the history of                      was in the lead of the Dauphiné Libéré,       ing. When he emerged, he came over to
sport. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest                 and there was little doubt that he would      say hello. I congratulated him on win-
fraud.” It is impossible to prove a nega-                    go on to win the race. (“There are not so     ning the stage. “It’s always fun to win,”
tive, and so Armstrong can do nothing                        many guys left,” Bruyneel said to me          he said, smiling broadly.“But, man, I am
to dispel the doubts. But his frustration                    with a smile and a shrug. “If he feels        in such agony.” o
58                                               Y
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