Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Heroes - Lance Armstrong

Here is the second part in my Heroes series - following on from my Carl Sagan article. For anyone who knows me, it should come as no surprise that I have chosen Lance Armstrong for my second instalment of my Heroes series.

Lance Armstrong was born on September 18 1971. He is an American professional road racing cyclist. Even amongst those who do not follow the sport of cycling his name is well known. He retired from professional road cycling in July 2005, but returned to competitive cycling in January 2009, and finished third in the 2009 Tour de France.

He is perhaps best well known for winning the Tour de France a record breaking 7 consecutive times (1999 - 2005). This is quite simply an astonishing achievement. Prior to this, the most consecutive Tour de France wins was 5. This was by the Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain (1991 - 1995). Other cyclists have achieved 5 Tour de France wins, but have not done so consecutively (Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil).

In my opinion this is a record that will in all likelihood never be beaten!

If you don't follow cycling and are not familiar with the Tour de France, it is a 3 week stage race that circumnavigates France. Each day the riders will cycle between 150 - 200 kilometres, including mountain stages crossing the Alps and Pyrenees. There are only two other 3 week stage races on the professional racing calendar - the Giro D'Italia (circumnavigating Italy) and the Vuelta Espana (circumnavigating Spain). To finish the Tour de France is an achievement. To get on the podium is an achievement. To win it once is an achievement. To win it 7 consecutive times is an absolutely astonishing achievement.

What makes Lance's 7 consecutive wins even more astonishing is that they were all achieved after he was diagnosed with life threatening testicular cancer. Lance was diagnosed with his illness in October 1996. The cancer was so virulent that it had spread to his lungs and brain. His treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy. His original prognosis was poor.

Amongst the professional peloton, and therefore his cycling peers, he is highly respected but not always necessarily liked. He is quite often outspoken and is not afraid to make his thoughts on issues known, even if they are unpopular or controversial. His phenomenal self belief is often interpreted as arrogance or cockiness. It is precisely these qualities that I admire about him. Telling you how it is, and believing in yourself!

You don't win the Tour de France without having huge reservoirs of self belief. It's just not possible. While few people could ever hope to equal Lance in terms of self belief, most would like to be nearer to him on this particular quality.

As a cyclist, he is an amazing athlete. He has massive natural ability. An ability that he has since honed with hard training and dedication to his sport. By any accounts, his athletic abilities are exceptional. His measurements for V02 Max and lactate threshold for example are testament to his athletic prowess. His V02 Max is recorded at 83.8 mL/kg/min (the average person is between 40 - 50). He has a resting heart rate of 32 - 34 bpm, with a maximum heart rate of 201. When riding the tough mountain stages of the Tour de France, his body simply doesn't suffer as much his rivals.

Whilst many famous and successful sportsmen would be happy to sit back on their laurels and bask in their glory, Lance preferred instead to continue riding and winning the Tour de France. Lance single handedly brought cycling to the mass American audience. Although other Americans brought it to their attention, such as Greg LeMond, Lance was the breakthrough cyclist who brought an entire generation to France every year to cheer for their own home grown hero.

As much as I admire and respect him as a cyclist, it is also his tireless dedication to furthering the cause of reducing cancer through his Lance Armstrong Foundation that I greatly admire. In 1997, Lance Armstrong founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which supports people affected by cancer. The foundation has become one of the top 10 groups funding cancer research in the U.S., raising more than $325 million from the sale of yellow Livestrong bracelets. I own one of these thanks to a very good friend of mine. He has also acquired corporate sponsorships from companies like Giro, American Century Investments, Nike, Inc. and FRS to help raise funds for his charity.

Lance Armstrong is quite simply a living legend!

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