Leaving a Legacy
Since RIDE #31 (released in January 2006) a regular section of the magazine has been titled ‘Legacies’. It came about largely because of a statement made by Lance Armstrong at the start of his reign as champion of the Tour de France. The original feature – ‘Leaving a Legacy’ was published a few months after Armstrong first retired from racing. Rupert Guinness wrote the main piece but the introduction, by Rob Arnold, noted that the influence of the Texan would have long-reaching implications – much of it very positive but, because of doubt about his performances in the latter years, some of it clouded by controversy.
Here is the opening stanza of the first legacies piece in RIDE… (apologies to Gershwin/Arlen).
Flashback from RIDE #31 (January 2006)
On the eve of claiming the 2000 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong was asked what qualities he believed his legacy would have. “It depends on how many I can win,” said the man who went on to create history by claiming a record seven Tour titles. “One victory: you definitely don’t leave a mark — they forget you immediately…” Looking back at cycling over the years you soon realise that a legacy does not necessarily relate to success and that the consequence of a career can be felt long after retirement.
The end of a racing season offers the chance to reflect on which riders had an impact and why. Who would get your vote for Cyclist of 2005? What achievements impressed you the most last year? And do they relate to crossing the finish line first or is it about the manner in which a rider conducts himself in the heat of the battle? Do you care for clever repartee or is it better when their legs do the talking?
Cycling is in the mainstream like never before. Yellow ‘Livestrong’ wristbands can be seen almost everywhere you go. It’s a reminder of the influence a successful athlete can have if they have not only the personality but a story to back up their sporting achievements.
There are a lot of strong riders in the world but few have left a legacy that’s as significant as Lance Armstrong’s. There may be as many critics as there are fans, but the global impact of his tale of survival cannot be ignored. When the route for the 93rd Tour was announced last year, however, the seven-time champion came under attack from the race organisers.
The lyric of a tune sung by Jeff Buckley reflects the nature of the man and his career. In the Gershwin/Arlen song The Man That Got Away, there are lines that draw a parallel with the rider. “That great beginning has seen a final inning,” goes the number. After more than 10 years as a pro rider, the man who claimed the world championship at the age of 21 – finishing alone 19 seconds ahead of Miguel Indurain and an elite field – has ridden his farewell race.
He’s one of a number of riders who have ended their tenure in the pro ranks in recent months. Since his victorious final adventure at the Tour in 2005, Armstrong has endured a series of taunts from a media thriving on allegations that Armstrong’s urine showed traces of EPO six times during the 1999 Tour. “Don’t know what happened,” muses Buckley in a beautiful live rendition of the song in San Francisco on 4 May of 1995, “it’s all a crazy game!
“No more that all time thrill, for you’ve been through the mill and never a new love will be the same.”
Another rider will win the Tour de France in 2006. All the fans cycling has acquired since the beginning of the real reign of Armstrong – from 1999 onward – must now find another hero. But really, is it quite as harsh as the next line, one that effectively translates the gist of an article in L’Equipe on the final day of Lance’s career: “Good riddance, goodbye!
“Every trick of his you’re on to…” but the legacy remains.
The road is rougher than imagined. It also gets tougher but he has far from burned up – we know he’s threatened yet to turn up – because there’s just no let-up in the Livestrong campaign night and day. Ever since his comeback from illness he’s offered hope, yet now there are some who simply consider him to be the man that got away.
(Originally published in RIDE #31, January 2006)
– By Rob Arnold
RIDE Media publishes RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
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