Monday, July 25, 2005

Once upon a time, there was a man called Lance

I know precious little about the Tour De France, even less about the sport of cycling itself. My first memories of cycling go back about twenty years or so, bruises and all. And racing my school/high school friends was the closest to I ever got to the sport. A few years later, I read an article in The Sportstar about Miguel Indurain winning the Tour and apparently keeping his promise to do so! I was suitably impressed. Indurain was a hero, even though I didn't have the slightest idea what it all meant. Then he won four more times - and I hardly noticed. I learnt that years later when an American was about to win his fourth successive Tour. I thought I had heard of Lance Armstrong, but I actually confused him with Greg Lemond, another American who had won the Tour (three times?). These days, no sports fan is confused about who Armstrong is. The past hundred or so have seen many great athletes. Some of them among the greatest. Yet there are only a few that actually transcend their chosen sport, and manage to outgrow the sport itself and in the process become emblematic for the sport. Lance Armstrong defines cycling - he has single handedly raised the profile of the sport, so much so that these days grown men watch cyclists labour through hundreds of miles on real-time TV. His presence has lent credibility to a sport that was struggling to recover from injections of cynical immorality, even as he himself was almost caught in the whirlpool. Though I would have loved to see a giant-killer emerge out of nowhere in the true tradition of sport and win the Tour, it is fitting after all that Lance quits at the top. - NK

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