Armstrong loses Tour de France in Morzine. My guilty goodbye.

Sorry I let you down Lance.

This was the day I let Lance Armstrong down the one time he needed me.

He won seven Tour de Frances and never needed anything from me until today, stage eight, Morzine, the French Alps.

Lance Armstrong has been so strong and so brilliant for so long that it never occurred to me that he might need a lift. The back end of his name said it all: strong, aggressive, impervious to cancer, Contador, the march of time itself. Except for today, the day of final reckoning.

I’ve written about Armstrong for the last year and a half.  I’ve heaped praise, defended him, laughed at his blind spots, increased my readership with his name. I’ve made enough fun of him that I’m sure there’s a black mark on some Armstrong shit list.

He’s a complicated character — genuine yet calculating, dead serious yet funny, self aware yet blind, self centered yet altruistic, supremely confident but on occasion completely aware of his weakness.

Though I’d predicted he wouldn’t make the podium, I thought he came into this tour in better form, strong, more confident with a powerful team built around him. He was, as the French would say, going to be a presence in the tour, or to drop some old school 50 Cent— he was gonna get yellow or die trying.

If his death was imminent, I certainly didn’t expect it to occur Sunday at 5pm over a week before reaching reaching the Pyrenees. I was shocked, an unpleasant shock, maximum voltage, wet fingers in the socket. What I’m trying to say is, I screamed my lungs out for him on Morzine because for the first time, he needed me badly.

I never understood how much I was pulling for Lance Armstrong until he showed his weakness, until he became so very human. Big Tex in big need, Mellow Johnny as Helpless Johnny. I needed him today because the world has few heroes and Armstrong, past doping or not, is that rare being, the justifiable superstar.

Today on Morzine I realized that in some way Lance has always been there for me, an inspiration, a benchmark, a man so strong and smart in so many ways that went far beyond the mundane win and loss of sports. I wanted to give him back something — energy, hope, a few watts, but my powers were useless.

It’s the the irony of our heroes — we never want them to succeed so badly as when they’re no longer superstars. When the mountain climb becomes a descent, when they fall from the pedestal. He tumbled back to earth and closer to me. He was just another exhausted rider with a dream his legs couldn’t possibly deliver and I’ve never felt closer to him.

On the cobblestones of stage three Armstrong admitted that some days you’re the hammer and some days you’re the nail. Today was all nail, ugly, painful, pounded with brute force. It was excruiating to watch. Our complicated but committed relationship was suffering.

When he rode past me, big chunks of clock behind Contador and Evans, I tried my best to give him anything I could. Without thinking, the words came out: “Come on Lance, you can do it, you can do it.” I beseeched him to not lose the tour today, not like this, burnt, old and pedaling squares.

It wasn’t to be, he finished close to 12 minutes down, tour finished and even to write the words seems like some kind of cosmic mistake. Twelve minutes — essentially a minute for each year Armstrong is older than Contador. Time for Trek to make a carbon fiber wheel chair. Not the Madone, the I’mdone.

Fans lay so much of their hopes and dreams on their heroes. When they win we share in their glory and feel absolved of our failures. His tweets are my tweets. There’s no doubt in my mind there are many Livestrong supporters in tears tonight.

He’s too old be be broken, too wise to wallow in disappointment. We haven’t heard the last of Lance Armstrong in this Tour de France. But the cruel fact remains that it’s his last Tour de France and the race is not kind to former champions, especially a rider who’s almost 39.

All those amazing wins, the yellow jerseys, the dominance and beauty and inspiration. He failed on stage eight of the 2010 Tour de France. What’s harder to take, is the feeling that the one time he needed something from me, I couldn’t deliver.

(Note: to see all my photos from the tour click the FLickr  gallery at the bottom or click here.)

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  • http://www.mauricio-soler.com FanDeSoler

    excellent post…sounds like he's aiming for one last stage win, & something tells me the peloton may let him have it

  • Nita

    Lance is no longer the man he was when he won seven straight Tours. It's not that he's old, it is that he is a different person. He has made a new life and has other things on his mind besides winning: Livestrong Foundation, building a new team, raising Max and Cinco – maybe even marrying their mother. One day Eddy Merckx was no longer the Cannibal. Today is the day Lance is no longer a cycling monster. Vive Lance!

    • fraud_lance

      “Lance is no longer the man he was when he won seven straight Tours”
      …Yes, because he was not on EPO this time ’round!

  • http://knobbykabushka.blogspot.com/ Knobby Kabushka

    It hurt to watch today, hurt inside when I was watching him & the boys racing back to the peloton after first crash I thought to myself their using all their energy up and than the 2nd one came and I knew it was over, I knew that Lance would not make it back this time.

    But, maybe there will be one stage victory down the line, maybe the team will come up with some miracle move that will let Lance outfox the rest or maybe, maybe we will just watch the rest of the tour in slience.

    Quitely knowing that after all these years of watching him, reading about him, cussing him, cheering him, wearing the yellow bracelet, placing him up in the sky like Superman after all that, we now know that he really was just a normal guy who loves riding a bike…

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Knobby, thanks for writing in. Yes, it did hurt in more ways than one. We'll see how that normal guy on a bike does now. He'll do something special I think.

  • Jennifer in Austin

    Tough day, but a lovely piece.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Thanks, Jenn. I'm still kinda shocked about what happened. Matt

  • http://www.johnmilander.com JohnMilander

    Well said. Today was a sad day…but I will never stop being a supporter and a fan. In this day when Idols are made and broken by popularity contests and the media, Lance has risen above it all. His comeback may not have been what we all hoped, but it has been a great ride to see. I for one will be staying along for the ride and looking forward to seeing a more human-flawed Lance in a post-cycling triathlon life!

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      John, Lance has even more fans after today. Being a superstar who always wins in one thing. WHen people saw how hard he tried at age 38 on Morzine, that was also impressive and will endear him to many news fans.

  • Barry McCallum

    Not a big fan of Lance, but that is one seriously cool piece of writing, Matt.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Thanks Barry. Yeah, it was an unexpected but genune feeling because I'm the first to tweak him when I see the opprtunity. But yesterday made me realize how much I cared about the guy.

  • http://twitter.com/helenebarrette Helene Barrette

    Matt,
    You somehow managed to capture my own emotions so well, that I didn’t realize until I read your piece just how upset I was, and how much I had been rooting for him. I didn’t expect him to win, but I did expect him to still be in the running for the last TT the day before Les Champs Elysees. Perhaps even create more magic that day.

    I’ve tried describing to people why I like Lance, even though I don’t think of him as a “nice guy”. You did that very well above – and certainly more eloquently, and doing him better justice, than I ever did.

    I will be in Paris in 2 weeks, and will cheer for him louder than ever before. It will be an honor to see him ride of the Paris cobblestones where he left his mark so many times, so convincingly.

    Thanks for writing – I won’t need to try now, you did it better than I ever could. :)

    Cheers –
    Helen

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Helene, Thanks for writing. Yes, I was suprised by my own feelings today, knowing the ride was finally over. Like him or not, he's given so much. I'm not an American who blindly roots for American riders. I'm not a big booster of Armstrong and yet today I realized just what he meant to me. We will cheer together in Paris. I'm tall so you can rest on my shoulders for a better view.

  • http://snowcatcher.blogspot.com/ Snowcatcher

    Another of your truly fine pieces. Thank you for putting what many of us feel into such eloquent words.

    It ain't over until the Fat Lady sings. He's still a hero and a winner if he finishes, because, let's face it. How many of us could ride 2,300 or however many miles it is in 21 days?!? If he keeps going, which I suspect he will, he's got a lot more of that true grit inside him, and that's the real reason why people admire him. The power to keep going when it seems pointless.

  • Dane Walsh

    I never used to be a Lance fan, instead always cheering for Ullrich. Lance was the Nemesis, the guy who made it look so easy and yet was the one who knew the recipe. And then he retired. Finally, we could see a new star in cycling – anyone. But the Tour was boring without Lance. Seven years of hating the guy so much left me without a person to target. The Tours without Lance just weren’t the same emotional roller coaster…

    And then he made his comeback. World order had been restored, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to hate him any more. I respected him, it takes guts to make a comeback – to risk your reputation and legacy. I had learnt a lot more about Lance, not the cyclist, but the person in a couple of months post comeback than what I knew of him when he was at his best. His new laid back approach, his friendly banter, his dedication to his charity – how could anyone hate this.

    It is very sad to see Lance go out like this, but I think this is the beginning of a new era in the Lance Armstrong saga. Except for a date next year in Hawaii.

  • robert

    One of your best pieces, Matt. Lance's fall, both literally and metaphorically, on Stage 8 let us see into ourselves and our mixed emotions about Le Boss. May he finish the race with pride in a Tour de France career fought with honor.

  • Caren

    Well done, Matt, I think you captured what many of us felt. I have to admit I wasn't certain I wanted to read your blog…in fact, I told myself that if you chose the opposite side of how I felt I was deleting your link from my favorites. But you aptly described my own feelings and thoughts even though I was in New Mexico and not on the side of the road in Morzine. I look forward to your wit and sarcasm!

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Thanks Caren. I always figure people can disagree with me and keep reading if I at least make it entertaining. As you know I have many good things to say abotu Lance and I also make fun of him when I think it’s merited. But on Morzine when I saw im slip away forever I realized how much he ment to me. A good thing. Matt

  • Ron

    Yup,lovely piece of writing Matt. Sure, we all feel for Lance but I dont look at this as a fall. Its a natural progression.

    I dont think he came back because he wanted to win the Tour again. I dont think he really thought he could. I think he came back because he missed the camaraderie of the team. All his life he's been training hard with his buddies, focused on conquering the next mountain. The pain is what reminded him that he is alive. He loves that pain, and sharing the battle with his team. His first retirement left a void in his life that couldnt be replaced by business meetings and appearances on the Tonight Show. He may surprise us one more time in this Tour, but he now knows that this is truly the last for him. He can retire with his head up knowing he gave it his all but guys like Lance and Jens Voigt will always crave the pain.

    Many, especially the French, hated Lance during his seven victorious Tours because he made it look too easy. But now many more will love him because he showed us just how hard it truly is.

  • Julian Sweet

    I could not believe reading this and then meeting you in Le Clin d'Oeil in Morzine.

    It was lovely to meet you and I hope you avoided the thunder on the way back to Praz de Lys.

    Maybe I'm still a believer but having seen the video of Lance's fall and having seen him up near the top of Avoriaz; I've a sneaky feeling it's not quite over.

    This is a tour of surprises.

    Enjoy the Col de la Madeleine/St Jean de Maurienne.

    Julian and Pirjo

    PS Moby is from Harlem!

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Thanks Julian, I'm not going to miss this one. I'll be there for all the action. Check bacl for pics and story and check out the flickr gallery at the bottom. Matt

  • http://letourbabe.wordpress.com/ Le Tour Babe

    Well written, mon ami.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Thanks babe. Col de la Madelaine today. Got to find a road to get up there. The press room is at the finish and way to far to hike in. I'll be there one way or other. Matt

  • Henrique

    I'm still choked…

    Re-living the 1996 Tour where Induráin lost his 6th consecutive win – hypoglicemia at Luz-Ardiden.

    Can't believe Armstrong is gone for cycling…

    Really sad deep feeling, almost like when my football club looses an european final…

    Go Lance! You were already UP there anyway!

    Henrique, Portugal

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Henrique, good to here from you. Yeah, I think many many people discovered, like myself, how special and important the man is to each of us. Doping or not, ego or not, like him or not, he’s given so much to the sport and also to the fight against cancer. He set the bar higher than anyone. Matt

  • Ken30684

    Let us not forget that Lance has spent 7 years showing the world how to win the TdF. Other teams and riders learned the lesson and now Lance isn't just 10+ years older than they are, they also beating him with the plan he created.

    I just hope Lance's problems are not from the Curse of the Ugly Uniform kit. Go Levi.

  • TR

    Great piece Matt, and balanced well between the good and not-so-good Lance. Have to say that at times I’ve been the ga-ga fanboy, reading the books, following the tweets, but simultaneously off put by the arrogant self aggrandizement. I wanted him to finish well in his swan song tour, and he may still come out respectably. Gotta say though that the the lost tour came not due to ‘bad luck’ of punctures or someone else’s crash, but a personal mistake. Can’t blame luck or anyone else…and in a way that’s how it should be.

  • Ricola

    hahah it’s great to come back from my summer holidays in the Alps, and having time to read-up on all of your great blog posts Matt.

    Epic: “Time for Trek to make a carbon fiber wheel chair. Not the Madone, the I’mdone.” Hahah!

  • Digggel

    Well this is awkward… Good riddance to lance and all the dopers of his time