Monday, January 19, 2009

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome

Anne Bradstreet

LANCE'S LEADERSHIP MOMENT: Adversity Fuels Armstrong's Drive For Five

By Matt May

The centennial 2003 Tour de France bore testament to the old maxim that "adversity does not create leaders, it reveals them." It is one thing to overcome adversity, and quite another to capitalize on it. The former requires courage and perseverance -- qualities held by every cyclist brave enough to complete a Tour. The latter requires leadership.

In realizing his record-tying fifth consecutive Tour victory, Lance Armstrong literally had to pull himself up from the street and leverage a potentially disastrous event in order to clinch the Yellow Jersey.

This year's Tour de France was destined to be a crucible for Lance. As if it wasn't enough that he was suffering intestinal ailments and nursing a serious scrape from a pre-Tour race going into the Prologue, Stage 1 found Lance in a massive pileup requiring him to borrow a teammate's bike to cross the finish line. It wasn't enough that he had to cycle across an open field in Stage 9 just to avoid crashing into another racer, Joseba Beloki, who went down on a switchback descent right in front of Lance. It wasn't enough that Lance misjudged his hydration on a day of searing heat in the critical individual time trial, ran out of water midway, and lost a dozen pounds and over 90 seconds advantage against his nearest competitor. Armstrong said afterward, "That's as close as I've come to just getting off the bike and quitting."

None of that was enough to deter Lance. But his real test came on the final mountain stage in the Pyrenees and the climb of the Luz-Ardiden. With a slim 15-second overall lead, Lance would have to attack and gain back some time in order to secure the title. With six miles to go, he did. No sooner did he than his handlebar caught in a spectator's bag. Lance went down -- hard. He saw victory retreating. Scrambling to regain his composure, he remounted, but as he did, he fell yet again -- this time onto to a bike crossbar as his foot slipped out of the pedal. Panic set in.
Armstrong said of that moment: "It was one of the most intense feelings I've had in my life. Your back is against the ropes. They're coming at you, and you've been losing it all week, and now you're about to lose it all. What's your answer? What are you gonna do?"

When you're Lance Armstrong you leverage the fear to fuel your performance. For the first time in the Tour, the old Lance was back. Out of his seat in his hallmark high cadence, he quickly rejoined the pack, which had respectfully waited for him to recover. Then he sprinted ahead, and he delivered a stunning win of the stage and increased his lead to over a minute -- enough to clinch his fifth Tour.

It's not about the bike, or the other guy, or the mountain, or the trophies. It's about what's inside.

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Harlan Ellison