Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lance Armstrong to return to cycling - "the same old son of a bitch" - my memories of Lance.

Lance Armstrong and I going to the press conference after coming 2nd in the Clásica San Sebastián in 1994

You are probably wondering why I am writing a post on Lance Armstrong. Those of you who know me from way back will know of my great interest in cycling from my days in Motorola when I was heavily involved in the Motorola Cycling Team. These days my interest has declined, as has the sport, but a spot in my heart is still there for the sport which took up so much of my time for nearly a decade.

Lance Armstrong was part of that team which he joined in 1992. Lance was an aggressive sort of guy, very Texan and with a very brash and arrogant American manner. His team mates either loved him or hated him. I was in the middle. What I couldn’t stand was his attitude to Hennie Kuiper, the team coach. Hennie, a wonderful gentle Dutchman was an Olympic gold medallist and a great cyclist of his times, having come 2nd in the Tour of France on various occasions and a real hero in his country. Lance just didn’t respect Hennie and often put the team against him and I couldn’t forgive him for that. Of course he was only 21 at the time.

I remember organising a telephone interview with him for El País at around the time he had won the world championship. I had to translate and it ended up being in the massage room whilst he was receiving a massage. There he was naked with just a towel to cover him! I was so embarrassed.

I actually witnessed one of his first races with the team which was the Clásica de San Sebastián, a one day race which was part of the UCI World Road Cup a the time. From what I can remember Lance never finished that race and because of the humiliation I remember him saying he would go on to win it one day. The next year, 1993, he became the youngest road racing world champion ever, beating Miguel Induráin to the finish line. In 1994 he came 2nd in the Clásica and I was there again to witness it. In fact I have a photo of me with him in the Hotel María Cristina when we had to go the press conference for the first 3 riders (see above). I have a story to tell about that too.

On the way from the finish line to the hotel, at one stage he asked me to carry his bike, which of course I refused. I was not an adoring fan. Two of them though, stopped us and asked to have a photograph taken with him. I was to take the photo and just as I was about to press the capture button, Lance said to me in English: “Masha just pretend you are taking it, don't actually press the button”. I was incensed by his unkindness and negative attitude and of course took the photo.

He actually went on win the Clásica in 1995 but I wasn't there to see him but on holiday in Scotland!

Then the team disbanded, Lance got cancer and I lost touch. I saw him briefly when he took part in the Tour of Spain just after his recovery. Having heard that the experience had softened his character I asked his team mate and “buddy”, Frankie Andreu if this was so. I will never forget his friend replying: “no, he’s just the same old son of a bitch”.

And it’s this “same old son of a bitch” who then went on to win the Tour of France 7 times in a row from 1999 to 2005 until the whole world of cycling was sick and tired of his victories. He came after the "reign" of Miguel Induráin, so well loved and also so gentle and humble. Lance just wasn’t liked and did nothing to make people like him either.

And now he has threatened to come back after 3 years away from the professional circuit.

Do you think he will win the Tour of France in 2009? I asked my friend Pedro Delgado, the well known and beloved Spanish cyclist, TV commentator and winner of the 1988 edition. He believes he can’t. I believe he can.

So, place your bets, ladies and gentleman.


1 comment:

Jorge said...

Great story, Masha.
You should write a book!
(I would definitely buy it)