First, Trust Yourself …

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times.
He’d earlier won against cancer in 1996.

Lance Armstrong knew about winning. This, though, is a bit about his first year while defending what he’d won. Its not the same thing. Like he said “I started the 2000 tour with a bull’s eye on my back. At least thats the way it felt”.

Its an extract from Every Second Counts. Its randomly selected. And edited.

The first thing I did in trying to defend the Tour de France, though, was nearly kill myself.

The world is full of people who are trying to purchase self confidence, or manufacture it , or who simply posture it. But you can’t fake confidence, you have to earn it, and if you ask me, the only way to do that is work. You have to do the work, and thats how the 2000 campaign started, with backbreaking work.

In early May, the US Postal team went into the Alps and Pyrenees for a series of labor-intensive training camps, the idea being that if I rehearsed the pain, punished my body enough and did enough work, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad during the Tour itself. We traced the Tour, scouting the stages.

The 87th annual edition of the race would cover 2,274 miles and 23 days counterclockwise around France.

Somewhere in the course of those rehearsals with the US postal team , Lance had an accident. A bad accident. In May. Ahead of the 23 days in July.

Back to Lance ……

“I passed out, I think. At some point, an ambulance came and took me down the mountains to a hospital in Lourdes. It was the first time I’d needed hospitalisation since the cancer, and as the doors swung open, I inhaled the scent of the medicines and the disinfectant, and felt the old, scared, fluterry sensation in my chest.

I took some stitches in my head and my jaw, and they kept me overnight for observation. I didn’t sleep. I kept feeling that plastic mattress-cover underneath the sheets which i managed to soak with perspiration.

The next morning I flew home to Nice. Kik met me at the airport. My head was about three times larger than it should have been, and I had two black and puffed-out eyes, along with scrapes and cuts all over my face. Kik gasped.

“You look like Elephant Man”, she said.

For weeks I sat on the sofa at home, unable to train or race, waiting for my head to regain its normal shape. I had plenty of time to think, and it left me with the conviction that I didn’t need to make any more foolish mistakes or take unnecessary chances. I liked descending, and I liked cornering, but now I decided that if I lost 30 seconds, that was okay. I could make it up.

Finally, carefully, I resumed training. The crash had prevented me from making perhaps the most important reconnaisssance, of a climb called Hautacam. It was a famed ski station at the top of a mist shrouded mountain near Lourdes, and it would be the first mountain stage, as well as the most difficult.

So I went back. The weather was blustery and I rode the exact route we would take, only there were no spectators and I was alone except for Johan in a follow car. I arrived at the foot of the Hautacam, and I began to jog atop the pedals, working my way up the steep hillside. I studied the road as I went, trying to decide where I might attack and where I’d need to save myself. It was pouring down a mixture of snow and sleet, and my breath steamed out in a white vapour.

After about an hour, I reached the top. Johan pulled up and stuck his head out of the car window. “Okay, good. Get in the car and have some hot tea,” he said. I hesitated. I was unhappy about the way I’d ridden.

“I didn’t get it,” I said.

“What do you mean you didn’t get it?”

“I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the climb.”

A mountain could be a complicated thing. I didn’t feel like I knew Hautacam. I’d climbed it, but I was uncertain about how to pace myself up it. At the end of a rehearsed climb, I wanted to feel that I knew the mountain so well that it might help me.

“I don’t think I know it,” I said. “It’s not my friend.”

“What’s the problem?” he said. “You’ve got it, let’s go.”

“We’re going to have to go back and do it again”

It had taken an hour to get up, and it took about 30 minutes to get back down. And then I rode it again, straight up for another hour. This time, at the end of the day, in the driving rain, when I was done, I felt I’d mastered the climb. At the top, Johan met me with a raincoat. “I don’t believe what I just saw,” he said. “All right. Now let’s go home.”

That night, I sent my physiological data from the climbs to Chris Carmichael, my coach. After each day’s training session, I studied the readouts from a small computer mounted on my bike, which told me my watts, power, cadence, and heart rate. Those figures showed me where the mountain was hardest for me and where it was easiest. It was my habit to email the figures to Chris, and he would make notes and comments and send them back to me.

That night Chris opened the file I sent and looked at my figures. The next morning, he called me. “It looked like a tough day, seven hours in that weather, but your power was still impressive,” he said. “One thing, though,. I think the file got corrupted, because the numbers are funny.”

“Funny how?” I asked.

“There are two sets of them,” he said.

“That’s right.”

“You did the climb twice?”

“Yeah”

Chris was quiet for a moment.

“You sick fuck,” he said.

In an entirely different context, (probably), Bob Dylan wrote :

Trust Yourself
To prove the way that will prove true in the end.
Trust Yourself
To find the path when there is no if and when.
If you want somebody you can trust,
Trust Yourself.

And for me, connecting sportsmen achieving and trying to maintain the pinnacle of their achievements, and a musician telling you what works, is a typically lets-enjoy-the-half-full-glass piece from Rohit Brijnath called Singing the Blues

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