cycling utah August 1999

Classic Corner

We can have cycling heroes again

By Greg Overton

Heroes. If you grew up cycling, especially racing, you probably had heroes. For me, there were riders like Eddy Merckx, Roger DeVlamnick and Lucien Van Impe. These were people that we knew little about other than their battles on the bike. We'd get coverage of races a month later in the rare magazine article, but we knew nothing of their character or personality.

Then along came Greg LeMond, just in time for communications technology to mature enough to allow almost instantaneous information on his racing exploits, along with glimpses of his personality.

As a kid in the South, I didn't hear much about LeMond while he was a junior rider, or as Pan Am Games winner, and really not much about his Junior World Championship. But upon my arrival in Colorado, with events like the Red Zinger/Coors Classic, news about LeMond was always available. I was around many people who competed with him regularly, usually fighting for second place. But there was never a bad word about "LeMonster" (a short-lived nickname) as a person. He is always a nice guy, with feet on the ground in a sport where even a quick Category 3 racer is often "Fignonesque", pouty and arrogant. Greg's comeback in 1989 from a near fatal accident to race again was the making of a hero, but to win the Tour again, twice, definitely set him apart from other winners.

Some of the other genuine heroes of cycling are the hard men such as Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartoli, who interrupted their careers to fight in World War Two. Or Ottavio Bottecchia, who often trained and raced on unpaved roads, carrying spare tires and equipment on his back.

Bernard Hinault was a great racer. Tenacious and unwilling to lose. A member of the 7-11/ Motorola team once compared Hinault with Miguel Indurain: "If you put in a good attack on Indurain, he will catch you, complement you on your effort and form, then make you pay by killing you for the next few kilometers. Hinault will catch you, glare at you, tell you that if you ever do that again he will break your kneecaps, then make you pay by killing you for the next few kilometers." Both of these riders deserve hero status, but one of them deserves it for being more than a bike racer.

Now that I'm older, wiser and not as immersed in the racing scene as I once was, I haven't viewed recent professional racing with the same wonderment as before. I haven't looked for my role models there, and frankly haven't had much to Identify with. Racing is much more technically oriented, both in equipment and in supplements, and less rider oriented than my era. For some of us, technology is not as interesting as people.

The 1998 Tour de France scandal left me feeling indifferent, a sign that I had lost a connection with it.

What a difference a year makes! This year's Tour just finished as I write this, and I am elated. First of all, to any of you who have heard me boast of a certain component manufacturer from Japan never winning the Tour de France, I'll take that crow and eat it happily.

The dominance of an American team in the Tour and Lance Armstrong in yellow is enough to make our cycling community whoop it up. But the personal victory by Armstrong is far greater cause for joy.

To someone who lost both parents to cancer, it is always wonderful for me to hear of someone in remission, let alone conquering this disease.

It's typical for riders in major stage races to worry about catching a bug and getting a little cold or bronchitis. Imagine how that worry must be compounded with the specter of cancer always lurking.

To see the way in which Armstrong regained his body and mind to dominate the toughest race in a wonderful sport is certainly heroic on more than an athletic level. He rode like a true champion, always at the front, looking to increase his lead when possible. Controlling the race as he controlled his disease.

Congratulations to Lance on two great victories! Anyone out there looking for a hero?

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