Lance Armstrong said goodbye on the climbs of the Tourmalet and Col Aubisque. He bid farewell the most meaningful way he knew how: pedal to the metal, guns blazing, singing an executioners song.
The seven time winner of the tour de France showed his rivals he may be ancient, the victim of bad luck and days away from final retirement but he still came to win a race he’s dominated so many times.
Watching on a TV at an outdoor bar tent at the top of Aubisque, it was hard not to feel a surge of deja vu. Armstrong back where he belonged, punishing the best riders in the world, racing up impossible grades, turning a hard, fast cadence, focused, relentless and confident. It could have been any year from US Postal or Discovery.
In the breakaway, Armstrong was back in his element. Chris Horner had made the break too, a man that practically broke down in tears when Armstrong’s luck went south. Horner said he’d ride for Armstrong in any race, anywhere, anytime, front or back. Horner would give Armstrong a wheel, blood, a spare lung, anything.
Alberto Contador was on his way to a third tour title. Andy Schleck was learning what disappoint and delusion feel like. Armstrong was waving au revoir with as many watts as he could pump out. As one roadside banner read: “hope rides again.”
There would be no gifts and that’s exactly how Armstrong wanted the score. Nobody in the break handed any favors or pulls. You want to go out in style, a legend, hero, inspiration? Then do the work because we’re sucking your wheel.
Armstrong went out the way he came in: digging deeper, enjoying the pain and riding like a champion. He leaves a hole in the sport no rider will ever fill.