He’s back! Get ready for the ‘09 Tour de Lance

He is Michael Jordan with a helmet, Tiger Woods on a saddle, Roger Federer wearing Nike tight-fit shorts. Of all the people on earth who’ve climbed a pedal-driven, two-wheeled vehicle, no one is faster. Or stronger. Or more famous. No one has won like he has and no one has a history like his story.

In headline news that splashed around the globe yesterday, Lance Armstrong announced two words: I’M BACK!

Are you sure? he was asked in an exclusive interview with Vanity Fair magazine. “One hundred percent!” he replied. “One hundred percent!”

That’s 200 percent. For with LA, perfect is not enough. And, when journalist Douglas Brinkley queried if, at his age (he’s turning 37 on Sept. 18), he still has strength to rule, he said: “Look at the Olympics. You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50-meter event, the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it. The woman who won the marathon was 38.

“Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale. Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32.”

He then added, “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.”

What prompted LA’s return? Part of it was a race he joined last August 9. Named the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race, a 100-mile “Race Across the Sky” where competitors climbed more than 14,000 feet, here’s the Vanity Fair story: “That ascent, cycling upward in a crosscurrent, tripped something primal in him. ‘It wasn’t a light bulb going off,’ he says, but a realization, combined with a gradual frustration ‘with the rhetoric coming out of the Tour de France. Not just the Tour on TV but the domestic press, the international press, the pace, the speeds at which participants rode. It’s not a secret. I mean, the pace was slow.

“Then Leadville, this kind of obscure bike race, totally kick-started my engine. For me it’s always been about the process.… The process of getting there is the best part. You start the season a little out of shape, a little heavy. You get in better shape. You lose some weight. I mean you’re just crafting this perfect program. For several weeks I (had) trained (for Leadville) and went riding by myself. Obviously beautiful territory and fresh air, just feeling fit, losing weight, getting strong—living a very healthy lifestyle. I thought, This might be fun to try again.”

Fun for Lance but a distressing thought, I must say, for his opponents. Two months ago, I watched plenty of Tour de France coverage. It was unexciting. I mean, there were no superstars or bitter rivalries. Not even the likes of Jan Ullrich or Ivan Basso showed up.

The question is: Can Lance win?

I asked Chris Aldeguer, a big LA fan, who answered: “His age and absence in competitive racing will certainly make winning the Tour very difficult. It’s normally almost impossible to win a major competition in a comeback year. But Lance is known to do the impossible. He might be able to pull it off. Having a good team around him will also be very critical.”

Added Boying Rodriguez, one of Cebu’s most known biking enthusiasts (and the highest-ranking RP official in mountain-biking): “He is welcome news! The Tour is probably at an all time low in as far as interest, coverage and spectators. I have stopped watching the TDF because of the drug scandals. But I have not taken off my Livestrong bracelet because he remains an inspiration to me and my sister-in-law who is battling cancer. It will be very hard for him to get back to the fitness level to win back the TDF but nothing is impossible with Lance and he has proven this. I saw him last year finish the New York City Marathon and he finished second in an MTB marathon race. I will be at the sidelines to cheer my idol!”

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