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September 22, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Old Dog, Same Tricks

News came to hand last week through that veritable hub of sporting journalism that is Vanity Fair magazine, that seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and former banger of Sheryl Crowe, Lance “I’m susceptible to Kryptonite” Armstrong intends on competing in next year’s tour in a bid to win an unprecedented eighth championship.

The 37-year-old justified both his age and his once momentary now increasingly permanent lapse of sanity by allowing Vanity Fair to gorge on the entrails of his decision thusly:

“Ultimately, I’m the guy that gets up. I mean, I get up out of bed a little slow. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I mean, my back gets tired quicker than it used to and I get out of bed a little slower than I used to. But when I’m going, when I’m on the bike – I feel just as good as I did before,” the one-balled Texan said.

So, he’s got that loving feeling for cycling again. Kia ora, Lance, that’s nothing short of remarkable. I, for one, understand completely why a seven-time champion would come out of retirement and treat himself to a 2,000-mile, 23-day race in the hills of France during the middle of fucking summer. Some people compete in fun runs, others take up knitting – you, my good sir, want to win the single most prestigious and gruelling cycling event known to man again just for kicks. Who are we to judge?

Well, maybe not so much ‘we’ – the lazy bitch-about-Wellington’s-hills uni brigade who can barely justify getting up before 10am for a 11am lecture – but Armstrong’s fellow cyclists. They must be tickled Erythropoietin-pink thinking about competing against the publicity machine that is Lance Armstrong again, right?

Well, uh, QuickStep rider Tom Boonen sure seemed happy about it: “Why is everybody so impressed? I’m surprised in a way that I don’t know what he’s got to win from it. If somebody feels like racing just let him race. [But] I wouldn’t do it, I think,” he moped.

“He has to know by himself whether he wants to come back. But I think for his career it’s better to stay [out], to quit with it,” Silence-Lotto rider Greg van Avermaet told the Associated Press.

“Fuck off, one-nut. You can afford petrol, so stop being such a dick,” said another cyclist who did not want to be identified for non-existence reasons.

So, maybe the well-to-do world of professional road cycling isn’t ready for Lance Armstrong to make his triumphant return – but Lance has beaten these rubes seven times before while wearing an undignified yellow skivvy that renders one prone to comparisons with The Wiggles – what has he got to lose by giving the ol’ penny-farthing one last spin? Well, quite a lot, actually.

For one, he bowed out of the sport the unprecedented seventime champion, cementing his place in the history books as one of the single greatest sportspeople of all time, and partaking in an indulgence rarely afforded professional sportspeople in this day and age: he retired as the best there is, was and (perhaps) ever will be.

Deciding to give in to the itch and scratch his way up the Pyrenees again whilst simultaneously dodging accusations of doping – par for the course for anyone who rides in the Tour nowadays – Armstrong runs the risk of not so much tainting his legacy, but removing a considerable portion of shine off it.

Nobody is going to think any less of his myriad achievements if he stumbles across the finish line in 53rd place, his bike tangled around his waist like a boho gypsy skirt, sweat pouring down his face like unadulterated misery, only to then collapse in a heap in front of the waiting news media offering only his middle finger and a “piss off” in response. The man beat cancer, had a ball lopped off and still managed to win seven Tour de France titles whilst remaining clean in a sport beset with drugs, cover agents and French people. “Admirable” is a useless and unworthy adjective here.

But as followers of Beatrice Faumuina will tell you, there is something innately cringe-worthy about watching a former champion wallow in the depths of mediocrity. It’s not that we don’t want to see our heroes defy the odds and win, we just don’t want those special memories of rare, gorgeous sporting excellence numbed by the sight of an old man “just having another go.”

Despite this, we will watch, we will marvel at Armstrong’s tenacity and insatiable lust for excellence. And who knows, if he does manage to pull off title number eight, we may even find our admiration increasing in kind. There is no sweeter success than veneration earned, even if you do look like you’re getting ready to wiggle.

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