The spectators gathered to watch Saturday’s stage of the Tour de France at St. Etienne saw more than a final time trial marked by the characteristic gritty performances; they saw Lance Armstrong, iconically clad in the yellow leader’s jersey, race competitively for the last time. Looking dominant from the start, Armstrong powered through, winning his first stage of the tour this year and insuring his unparalleled seventh consecutive victory in cycling’s biggest event. Consistently winning the individual time trial (a rare ability for such a talented climber) has become a hallmark of Mr. Armstrong’s cycling prowess, and this year was no exception.
The final ride into Paris yesterday was a more relaxing — though emotional — capstone for Armstrong, who was cheered by an admiring crowd on the Champs-Elysees. With a solid overall win, the Texan who so embodied perseverance and dedication retired in grand fashion.
Armstrong has emphatically declared that this will be his final tour. His retirement from professional cycling may bring to a close an era in the sport, but his legacy of overcoming the greatest challenges will be heralded for much time to come.
Indeed, Armstrong’s career has been defined by his tenacious response to tragedy. In 1995, during the descent of Col de Portet d’Aspet in the Pyrenees in the 15th stage of the Tour de France, Armstrong’s friend and teammate Fabio Casartelli suffered a horrific crash and passed away before he could be airlifted to a hospital. Armstrong responded with a strong and emotional stage win a few days later.
After withdrawing from the Tour de France in 1996 and a lodging a disappointing performance at the Olympics, the world’s top-ranked cyclist was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. Through aggressive medical treatments and a steadfast will, Armstrong fought his disease.
After his recovery from cancer, he formed the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which would go on to donate more than $9.6 million to fund cancer research and establish five comprehensive survivor centers to help care for the more than 10 million Americans who have confronted cancer.
Returning to race the Tour de France in 1999, Armstrong rode to an impressive victory. During his subsequent seven-year reign as king of the Tour de France, he overcame crashes, dehydration and heatstroke on the road, while fending off virulent allegations of drug use off the road. In a sport stigmatized by the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong remained a pillar of athletic integrity.
Armstrong’s impact is twofold: as a champion athlete and an inspirational survivor. Although he retired yesterday from his role as the former, we know he will never cease to be the latter.