- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

Thousands of people flocked to the Ellipse yesterday to welcome 26 bicyclists led by five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong as they ended their cross-country journey in support of cancer awareness and research.

The cyclists, who are members of the cancer community, embarked on the 3,200 mile “Tour of Hope” bike ride Oct. 11 in Los Angeles to spread the word about the importance of cancer research and adult participation in clinical trials.

The unprecedented eight-day ride, sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company, finished yesterday morning at 11:55 with a 40-mile scenic ride around the District and a festival on the Ellipse.

Spectators gathered on the Ellipse tracked the cyclists’ last miles live on a wide television screen. They cheered as the cyclists glided through Glen Echo Park en route to their final destination in Northwest. At the end, the spectators greeted the cyclists with thunderous applause.

Mr. Armstrong, 31, a testicular cancer survivor who plans to compete for his sixth Tour de France championship next year, complimented the Tour of Hope team, which includes doctors, radiologists, cancer survivors, nurses, cancer researchers and caregivers. Mr. Armstrong joined the cyclists at various points along their route.

“They’re the heroes. I’m just the guy who rode in with them,” Mr. Armstrong said. “This has been an amazing week, and time has flown by. It’s been incredibly special. I had an opportunity to ride my bike at night, to see the sun rise and see the moon.”

However, “if it were not for clinical trials, I would not be alive today,” Mr. Armstrong said before introducing each of the cyclists to the applauding crowd. “I would not have won the Tour de France if it weren’t for clinical trials.”

Ann Curry, news anchor of NBC News’ “Today Show,” hosted the festival, which featured free health screenings, events for children, tributes to cancer survivors and a presentation of the thousands of “Cancer Promises” collected along the bike route. Mrs. Curry’s mother died of gall bladder cancer, and her sister survived breast cancer.

Mrs. Curry also interviewed oncology doctors and nurses who encouraged adults to participate in clinical trials, to ask questions about their eligibility and to be confident they will receive the best possible treatment, based on their particular conditions.

As a bell tolled in the background, Dr. Von Eschenbach of the National Cancer Institute reminded the crowd that one American dies every minute from cancer.

“The bell tolls, and we know for whom,” he said. “Like those riders, the journey has been long and difficult. But, like the riders, we’ve come a long way.”

Earlier in the day, about 1,000 riders participated in a separate bike ride to raise funds for cancer research.

David Whitaker, 49, of Braddock Heights, Md., raised $700. He said it was important to participate in the bike ride because two of his close friends recently had undergone extensive chemotherapy.

“It really raised my awareness. One of my friends is a great cyclist, the other a great musician. I rarely do fund-raisers, but I saw what they went through,” Mr. Whitaker said. “Truthfully, everyone on stage is a hero, and there are very few opportunities to be in the presence of Lance Armstrong, but Glen and DeDe are my heroes.”

Mr. Whitaker said both of his friends are now in recovery. The cycling enthusiast, who rides about 6,000 to 7,000 miles a year, said he enjoyed the early morning show of camaraderie with fellow cyclists. “I’m a weekend warrior,” he said.

Jeff Fehr, 46, of Doylestown, Pa., joined Mr. Whitaker during the 7 a.m. bicycle hike. The environmental geologist said it’s important to raise awareness and money to fight cancer, a disease that has robbed him of four relatives.

He said he wanted to do something in memory of his loved ones; that’s why he got up at 4:45 a.m. yesterday to start the ride on time and raise $1,050 for research.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Lance Armstrong, particularly for something like this. He’s all about research and survivorship, and he just happens to ride a bike,” said Mr. Fehr, smiling.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide