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A Sprinter's Tale: The Davis Phinney diary
With over 300 national and international victories in a career that spanned two decades, Davis Phinney is still the winningest cyclist in U.S. history. In 1986, he was the first American ever to win a road stage in the Tour de France; five years later, he won the coveted USPRO road title in Philadelphia.
In 2000, when Davis was just 40 years old, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease. But that hasn't kept him down. Since retiring from professional cycling, Davis has been a cycling sports commentator, public speaker and journalist. He brings his passion for those two-wheeled machines to Cyclingnews.
Ride for the Roses Weekend - Austin, Texas, October 15-17, 2004
Lance in perspective
To really understand Lance, to really 'get' the man and the measurable impact he makes on people's lives, one must come to Austin and take part in the Ride for the Roses, a 3 day cancer benefit, organized annually by the LAF. This event, considered a homage for many of us affected directly or indirectly by cancer, has always been a cornerstone fundraiser for the LAF.
I've made most of the RFTR's since the inaugural event in '97. In those first years, I came with my father Damon, who'd been diagnosed with metastasized prostate cancer - and given slim odds, the doctors offering just a 10% chance of his living two years. But there Dad was 10 years later, still 'living strong', in the example set by Lance and many other amazing people we were to encounter. And we rode the hills west of Austin with guys like Miguel Indurain and Sean Kelly. Very cool.
The weekend has evolved significantly since, and the LAF, its staff and volunteers orchestrate the multitude of events to perfection. But it still centers around cyclists and cycling. This year, the Peleton Project members (those who raise significant amounts of money for the LAF) gathered east of town Friday morning to stretch their legs in an easy ride with Lance, Bob Roll and Mari Holden, whose mother is currently battling breast cancer. Later, we reassembled at a wild game preserve, where Robin Williams and Sheryl Crow entertained the group in an evening to be remembered. Bobke, as Master of Ceremonies, got things rolling during the silent auction. Dinner followed with awards and recognition to supporters of the LAF. And Lance, sitting front and center, accessible to one and all, cheered louder than anyone.
Relaxing out by a warming fire that evening, enjoying the starry Texas sky while surrounded by emus, zebras and all manner of wildlife, I spent some moments reflecting. Where I live in Italy, people constantly ask about Lance. Why doesn't he race in the Giro? Why doesn't he race more in general? Why not race a full season? The questions go on and on. And so, patiently, I try and put Lance into perspective to the average Italian tifoso.
No athlete, certainly no athlete in such a demanding sport as pro cycling, spreads himself so thin, in terms of time and energy committed to a cause, as Lance. No one else even comes close. How many pro riders do you know who need a 'scheduler'? Like the President, Lance has someone who necessarily plans his every move, down to the minute, ensuring that the endless onslaught of commitments are fulfilled, day after day, week-in, week-out. It's a punishing routine and it's been this way for years. So yeah, Lance doesn't race a 'full season', but he simply can't. His obligation, his commitment to the cured, is awe-inspiring. Instead of adding world and Olympic titles or a Vuelta win to his palmares, he fulfills his primary obligation: winning the Tour. And then he gets busy, incredibly busy.
The packed weekend that followed included a lively cycling expo and a hugely popular mass participant ride covering distances from 10-100 miles. Most of the 'who's who' went 70 miles this year, including Sheryl who rides fantastically well, considering she's only been cycling since the beginning of this year. Actor Will Farrell, looking very fit, came in late - directly from an upcoming film location - and motored 40 miles in well under two hours.
But to me, the most important part of the weekend - and surely the most impactful - happened when hundreds of cancer survivors, their families and friends gathered at the Austin convention center. This is an evening dedicated to cancer issues and is always both poignant and powerful. Ann Currie (news anchor on the Today Show) interviewed Lance extensively on stage, followed up by questions. This is a story I never grow tired of hearing. The frankness with which Lance relates his history is so utterly sobering and you can clearly see, clearly feel, both his compassion and his vulnerability, traits he's criticized for lacking on the bike. This guy is very much human, more so than we can really appreciate; unlike most of us, he's been face to face with his own mortality. Lance was and always will be a great bike rider but seeing him here, with his 'people', it's clear he's much more than that.
Critics of Lance and cycling purists will no doubt hold steadfast to their views, but for them, all I can say is this: ultimately the Tour, bike racing and sports in general are just vehicles of human expression, beautiful and inspiring yes, but life and death? No. This six times Tour de France winner deserves our hearty congratulations for his results on the bike - but ultimately, it's his actions off the bike that are Lance's true legacy.
Thanks Lance for your tireless humanitarian efforts. I and many others salute you and offer our absolute and enduring gratitude.
Oh and by the way, didn't I hear the number 7 mentioned several times? Yes!
Images by Davis Phinney