Lance Armstrong: Still an inspiration

We don’t know the truth. He may have. He may have not. Nobody but Lance Armstrong knows the truth. But, this truth we know: Among the billions of inhabitants our planet has hosted, he is the greatest human being ever to pedal on two wheels.

Pele. Ali. MJ. Federer. Phelps. Bolt. The name “Lance,” without question, belongs in the same sentence as those revered icons.

Remember the LA story? He was scheduled to die. A world cycling champion by the age of 21, he succumbed to testicular cancer that spread throughout his youthful system. Doctors declared him dead. Or, at least, they gave him a 30 percent chance of survival.

Biking? Climbing the Pyrenees? Winning a race… any race? Ha. Ha. Ha. Forgot those. How about breathing? Standing up? Walking? He walked. He climbed the Trek saddle. He pedaled. Then, miraculously, shortly after that near-death moment, he wins the 1999 Tour de France. Not once or thrice–but seven times, the most of any cyclist. And more than that, he won them every July from ’99 to 2005. Seven straight.

We all know the Tour de France. It is the single most excruciating and painful of endeavors, UFC included. You bike everyday for 23 days (with only two days of rest in between). The total distance for those three weeks? About 3,500 kilometers–many of those climbing the steepest of climbs atop the Pyrenees or the French Alps.

But more than his accomplishments on the bike, his life’s more enduring impact was felt in the cancer community.

Livestrong, his foundation, was started in 1997. It will turn 15 years old in October.

Did you know that almost $500 million (that’s over P21 billion!) has been raised by Livestrong? Can you imagine the tens of thousands of lives that money has helped save?

Added a CNN report: “More than 100,000 people have engaged in an awareness-raising activity such as running, walking or riding in the name of Livestrong.”

To me, this is Lance Armstrong. The inspiration. And this is how I choose to remember him. Like my good friend Dr. JV Araneta, who wrote a beautiful piece (“A Champion Forever”) in The Freeman yesterday, I’ve long concluded this statement: Lance is a hero.

That’s why yesterday, while playing tennis, I wore my favorite “US Postal” yellow cap. And, two afternoons ago while mountain biking in Maria Luisa, I wore the black-and-yellow Livestrong jersey and cycling shorts.

Chris Aldeguer, who has followed Lance even before his ’99 TdF victory, has made the same conclusion. When I chanced upon Chris early Sunday night, we biked and talked about Lance. Chris’ words? Though it’s highly unusual for a fighter like Lance not to fight this legal battle, he knows that the USADA has made its “You’re guilty!” verdict from the very start… and so it’s useless to fight.

“I’m focused on the future,” said Armstrong after joining a mountain-biking race in Colorado. “I’ve got five great kids, a great lady in my life, a wonderful foundation that’s completely unaffected by any noise out there, and we’re going to continue to do our job. The people like the people who are standing around here or on the course, they voiced their opinion in the last 48 hours and are going to support us.”

Optimistic. Looking ahead. Pedaling forward. Regardless of the mountain to climb, that’s Lance.

Lance Armstrong joining Cebu’s XTERRA or Ironman?

Yes. I mean, yes, there’s a possibility. The 7-time Tour de France champion joined two XTERRA races last year.

What’s XTERRA? It’s an off-road triathlon with an open-sea swim, a mountain-bike ride, and an off-road trail run. Lance joined the XTERRA USA Championship in Utah last September—his first—and he placed an impressive 5th place. “At 40 years old, I guess I could have gone home and drank beer and played golf all day long,” Armstrong said. “But it’s cool to come out here and test yourself, and also just support a sport that I think is really cool.” He joined another XTERRA race in Maui, Hawaii last October; this time, the World Championship. He placed 23rd—despite crashing head-on with one mile to go on his MTB.

Will Lance join the March 18 edition of the XTERRA here in Cebu? That’s the dream scenario envisioned by the organizers, led by Fred Uytengsu, Jr., who extended his invitation for LA to visit the Philippines for the first time.

If Lance does land in Mactan and joins the 1500m swim, 30K bike and 10K run that will start/end at Amara in Liloan, it will mark the grandest-ever visit of any athlete to Cebu. Dennis Rodman played basketball in Mandaue. Ken Griffey, Jr. threw baseballs at the Aboitiz Sports Field. Davis Cup tennis stars have swatted forehands here; PBA heroes have rebounded balls on dozens of occasions. But Lance is the superstar of super-athletes.

IRONMAN. This weekend, thanks to the recent email from Lance’s lookalike in Cebu—that’s Chris Aldeguer—Mr. Armstrong will be joining Ironman Panama 70.3. This is the same Ironman race that will kickoff at Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa this August 5.

Why this shift to triathlon for Lance? Prior to riding his Trek bike, he raced in triathlons. Says Wikipedia: “At the age of 12, he began his sporting career as a swimmer… and finished fourth in Texas state 1,500-meter freestyle. He abandoned swimming-only competition after seeing a poster for a junior triathlon called the Iron Kids Triathlon, which he entered and won at age 13.” Lance soon became America’s No.1 ranked triathlete in the 19-and-under group.

So, there. This is a comeback. This also means two chances for Armstrong to visit Cebu: XTERRA or Ironman.

CONTADOR. Speaking of his arch-rival Alberto Contador, what a contrast of fates. Just days ago, the cycling champ’s appeal of his two-year ban due to drugs was upheld by the sport’s highest ruling body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title.

Lance? The opposite. After a two-year-long federal investigation into his alleged drug use, the case was dropped and he’s declared innocent. This is huge news. One, Lance is a worldwide symbol of hope and sporting greatness. Had he been convicted, this would have told the world, “Nobody in sports can be trusted.” Two, Lance is a symbol of cancer survival. His image—and that of his good works against the Big C—would have been forever tarnished. Third, the investigators are the best. Named the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, they’re led by America’s sharpest lawyers and they’ve convicted the likes of Marion Jones and Tyler Hamilton.

And so, in this Armstrong vs. Contador “drugs” battle, the American beats the Spaniard.

CANCER. If you recall, Lance was given a 40% survival chance after testicular cancer had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. He lived. He biked. He won 7 TdFs. And, despite having surgery down there and retaining only “one ball,” this Superman beats me and so many others by rearing five children!

The latest good news on LA’s cancer fight? I call it the “Big C vs. the Evil C.” Lance is spearheading a campaign in California that will add an additional $1 tax (per pack) on cigarettes. Called the California Cancer Research Act, once approved, this will bring in nearly $1 billion in support of cancer research.

I call it the 4 Cs: Cycling Champ in Cancer vs. Cigarettes fight. Will Lance visit another “C” this 2012? Cebu? Let’s C.

Contador wins, Lance exits

Can you believe this? After biking for 21 days ending last Sunday in Paris, after pedaling for 3,642 kilometers, after the winner logged-in a time of 91 hours, 58 minutes and 48 seconds on that Specialized-branded bike, the difference between the champion and runner-up is minuscule: Thirty nine seconds.

Yup. If you read aloud the above paragraph, it will take you 39 seconds. That’s the same length of time that separated the Tour de France champion, Alberto Contador, from the second-placer, Andy Schleck.

Contador finished with a time of 91h 58’ 48”. Schleck ended at 91h 59’ 27”. Imagine a winning-time difference of only 39 seconds! For, in Le Tour, Every Second Counts. (In fact, this winning gap is only the fourth closest in history. The record was the 1989 win by Greg LeMond over Laurent Fignon by eight seconds.)

The Tour de France is considered not only the Wimbledon of Cycling but also one of the toughest events on Earth. What did the 2010 race teach us? Plenty.

First, Alberto Contador is cycling’s Manny Pacquiao. He has won three of the last four TdFs (he was absent in 2008 because his team could not compete) and is only the fifth racer in history to win all three Grand Tours (France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España).

Two, with AC’s win, it reaffirmed the status of Spain as numero uno together with Rafa Nadal, the World Cup-winning football squad, Pau Gasol, and, two nights ago, Fernando Alonso, who won the German Grand Prix. Spain reigns!

Three, we love rivalries. Like Roger vs. Rafa, Lakers vs. Boston (or will be LA vs. Miami next year?), Tiger vs. Phil (we wish!), there’s a new couple: Contador vs. Schleck. The past two years, they finished 1-2. We can’t wait for 2011.

Four, the Tour de Lance is done. Mr. Armstrong punctured a tire on the cobblestones, slipped on the wet roads, and admitted he’s “just not fast enough.” Well, what can you expect from a 38-year-old father of four (baby No. 5 arriving in October). Which brings me back to Lance’s seven TdF wins—and how astonishing that was to accomplish. Imagine, zero mistakes for 21 days… multiplied by seven years… straight!

Finally, with Floyd Landis and Greg LeMond ganging up on their fellow American, let’s hope, at the conclusion of all this, that Lance is telling the truth. For the estimated 28 million cancer patients today, for sports, for the sake of honesty, let’s hope Lance did not inject.

Igi Maximo pedals to the Max

(Photos at team maX1mo)

“Lance Armstrong is my idol,” said Luis Miguel “Igi” Maximo. “Apart from being a strong cyclist, what amazed me was how he fought cancer and won the Tour de France seven consecutive times!”

Igi Maximo is only 15. But when I asked for an assessment of who, between the cyclists, he picks to win the TDF this Sunday, like a seasoned expert, he replied: “I like Alberto Contador. He has proven to be an all-around cyclist and very strong climber. I enjoy it when he attacks big time on the mountain stages. Andy Schleck is also a favorite—but my bet is Contador. After hearing Schleck’s mechanical problem, he may still have a chance but if he doesn’t pull this off on the mountain stages, he’ll have a hard time in the Time Trial because Contador is better.”

Mature. Well-versed. Sports fanatic. Those are words best to describe this third year high schooler at PAREF-Springdale. Igi has lived all his life in a sports-obsessed home. His dad, Maxi, was Cebu’s 2009 Sportsman of the Year and the former Cebu Football Association (CFA) president who is visible in everything-sports: running the 21K, managing the CESAFI football tournament, biking, updating his sports website,

Like father, like son. Igi is the only son of Maxi and Sheila (they have two daughters, Ina and Ica). And, like the elder Maximo, the younger one has sports revved to the max: excelling in football as a varsity striker before transforming into the junior cycling champion that he is today.

“I started biking last year when I was invited by my classmates to join an outdoor group called Kaabay Boys Club of Sugbu Study Center,” said Igi. “Aside from biking, the club organizes camping, hiking, group studies and conducts talks on moral values and good character. I didn’t have a bike then, so I just borrowed. Later, I asked my dad to buy me one.”

In 12 or so months, Igi won three races in the prestigious Philippine Premier Cycling League (PPCL)—in Manila, Laguna and Clark. For someone so new to cycling, this is Lance-like. Apart from the PPCL, which runs until December, Igi added, “I also plan to join the local races… but the one I like to join again is the US Junior Cycling events. I had the opportunity to be in the US last summer and, while joining, not only had fun but learned a lot about road racing. I was nervous & excited because I was the only entry from the Phils. The junior cyclists were so good and fast. I want to go back and see if I can now keep up with them. I hope the Fil-Am community who partly sponsored me will invite me again next summer.”

Why this strenuous and dangerous sport? “Cycling teaches me a lot,” he said. “One, how to balance my academics and sports. Two, how to never give up… to bounce back from any loss, fighting stronger the next time. Three, in cycling or life, it’s not always an easy path; you will encounter challenges and it’s up to you how much you want to improve. Your performance will depend on your effort (I learned this from my dad.)”

Despite his youthfulness, Igi has started to compete in the Men’s Open (Elite) category, recently joining the mountain-bike ITT race and placing fourth. When I asked Igi how he’s become a success given his young age, his reply was direct: I simply have the full support of my parents. Enough said!

Maxi with Pacman, John P. and Atty. Jingo Quijano

To which his dad, Maxi, sent a separate email reply: “John, I asked Igi why he answered it that way. He said he just wants to highlight one important aspect – the parents’ support to a young athlete. I find him to be humble kid. He is not the type that trumpets his victories. Even in school, he does not tell his classmates & teachers that he won. He just keeps it to himself. They only find it out when they read it in the papers. This is partly why his fellow students and teachers are at ease with him: undefeated in the Student Council elections (Gr.7-class rep, 1st yr-Treas., 2nd yr-Sec., 3rd yr-VP) and 6-time Springdale Athlete of the Year.”

Biking Cebu and Touring France

I was born in Iloilo, studied elementary in Bacolod at La Salle, resided in Quezon City for several months, experienced vacation memories in Istanbul, San Francisco, Barcelona and Paris—but when I’m asked what I love most about this city of Cebu, I never fail to reply with one sporty answer: Mountain-biking.

No experience I relish more than pedaling, opening one’s eyes to green trees to the left and harrowing 45-foot cliffs to the right, trekking dirt roads, ascending hills then climbing mountains then descending both at 45-kph. This is Cebu, I remind myself. This is life. This is nature that God has gifted us. This is sweat trickling down my cheeks, muscles crying in pain. Yes, pedaling upwards towards the earth’s blue ceiling hurts—but don’t most experiences first hurt before we smile?

Biking? Ahhh, I love it. And though it’s not as widespread as Dr. Sander Ugalino’s sport or Bernard Palermo’s exercise or Joel Garganera’s passion (last Sunday, Joel finished his 8th marathon in 16 months!)—this Running Fever that has inflicted thousands—biking is popular. If you wake up early on weekends and drive up to Busay, you’ll see dozens of motorists using bikes without motors. Or, rather, the motors are their bodies—spewing energy to rotate pedals, propelling those thin tires skyward.

Which brings me to the TdF. No activity is more damaging to a human body than this killer. But before explaining the gory torture, first, the beautiful picture. Here’s how I described, with some revision, the race 24 months ago…

Picturesque mountain ranges of France are on exhibit. Green, lush hills sprinkle the landscape. Gray, paved roads shine. Blue, towering skies glow. Red-bricked homes glisten. And, weaving a spiral formation through turns that look like corkscrews and roadways that appear like pasta coils, cyclists parade in pink, white, orange, purple, and…

Yellow. Tour de France. Isn’t yellow the most sought-after color among the rainbow of colors in Le Tour? Absolutely. Because the yellow jersey is worn by only one man—the leader of the band; the fastest among the 190 or so cyclists who pedal in this race running from July 3 to 25.

Is “Le Tour,” founded in 1903, the most physically-demanding of all sports? To me, it’s like showing you a photo of David Diaz at the end of that 9th round stoppage, all bloodied and brain-weary, then asking you, “Is boxing painful?”

Of course. Of course the TDF is the most grueling of all sports courses. Including boxing. Think about it. In Le Tour, you scurry through nine flat stages. You point to the clouds on six unbearable mountaintops. There are 52 kms. of individual time trials when, facing wind, dust, rain or sun, you’re alone. In total, you pedal 3,642 kms. Every single day of cycling. For 23 days. With only two rest days in-between.

Manny Pacquiao? Boxing? Grueling? Don’t tell that to Lance Armstrong. Without question the greatest ever, LA has won seven Tours de France. Year after year, from 1999 to 2005, at the end of the world’s biggest cycling party, he finished in Paris and climbed the podium wearing one bright sunflower color.

The above words I wrote in 2008 are the same ones I’d write to describe the 2010 edition. Only, this year’s is more dangerous. Alberto Contador was wounded on a slippery downhill, Frank Schleck quit, Armstrong punctured a tire traversing cobblestones, Vande Velde retired—and it’s only been five days!

Questions abound this year. Can a 38-year-old body (Lance) beat someone who’s 27 (Contador)? Drugs? Did Lance “Just do it?” What will happen up the Pyrenees? Whose team is strongest? Can Astana, the weakling, lead it’s two-time champ to victory, beating Radio Shack?

Sadly, unlike the World Cup coverage, we have no “live” Tour de France showing from SkyCable. Good thing there’s internet streaming.

I can’t wait. AC or Lance? I’m cycling up Busay.

Re-Cycled: Lance Armstrong was on drugs

Alongside Michael Jordan, the sportsman I admire most wears yellow. I own his Nike watch. Several Armstrong books adorn my mini-library. A pair of sunglasses with his signature I’ve purchased. That yellow band with the “LIVESTRONG” name? I’ve collected those long before Noynoy Aquino’s crusade.

Lance’s story — a 22-year-old champion stricken by testicular cancer that had metastasized to his lungs and brain only to defeat the Big C bastard and climb back the saddle to pedal and win seven Tour de France crowns — is better than Hollywood. It’s true. Quite possibly, it is the most powerful story in all of sports. Ever.

That’s why, three days ago, when Floyd Landis, the former teammate of Armstrong, emerged with the story that implicated Lance as a drug cheat… this was explosive.

Not that these drug allegations are new. Since Lance won his first LeTour in 1999, drug issues have hounded his yellow jersey like a black shadow. Hundreds of “Lance Is A Cheat” exposes have, like Robin Hood’s arrow, targeted him in the past. But, let’s remember: not once has Mr. Armstrong — the most drug-tested athlete on earth — tested positive. Ever.

Still, this revelation by Landis is damaging. For three years starting 2002, Floyd with Lance was like Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan. He was, to borrow a cliche, Lance’s “right hand man.” They were not only buddies, they were US Postal Service team partners. Floyd would pedal ferociously up the Pyrenees mountains while Lance rode behind. Then, like a dutiful servant, Floyd would give way as The Yellow Master overtook and zoomed to the finish line first. Floyd was Robin. Batman was Lance.

What did Landis reveal 72 hours ago? In emails that he circulated and a phone call to an ESPN writer, he announced: 1) That he was a drug cheat, 2) that Lance was the same and, worse, taught him and others to use testosterone patches, blood transfusions and EPO, 3) that their teammates did the same, and 4) that officials and governing bodies were paid to quiet the story.

Given Landis’ stardom status — he won the ’06 TdF — this revelation was tantamount to the Watergate scandal that evicted U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon. This was very, very, very explosive.

Well, yes… and no. For here’s the problem: While the message may be explosive, the messenger is “damaged goods.” Landis is one man whose honesty is loaded with… dishonesty. Consider these facts: After lab tests revealed that Floyd took drugs during his 2006 victory in France, he did what any dishonest man often does: deny, deny, deny. He wrote a book, “Positively False: The Real Story Of How I Won The Tour.” He launched a fund-raising campaign that collected $1 million to pay for his lawyers. He appeared on Larry King Live and, with a serious face that made me and millions of others believe him, said “I’m honest.” Well, didn’t Ferdinand Marcos say the same?

“If there was one word I could walk away with that sums this all up its ‘Credibility,'” said Armstrong, hours after the news surfaced. “Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago. You’ve got someone who’s been under oath with a completely different version, someone who wrote a book with a completely different version… He has said he has no proof. It’s his word versus ours … and we like our word.”

Lance has a point. But here’s the biggest problem of them all: We don’t know whom to trust. Ben Johnson said he never did drugs. He did. Marion Jones cried oceans and said she never injected. She did. Roger Clemens never took steroids. He did. Landis said he never took EPO. He did.

Lance Armstrong? Like many of you, I hope — for mankind’s sake — that he is honest. I hope he did not inject. I hope he is yellow clean. Because if he’s not, then who, in this universe, can we trust?

Which brings me to the advocacy of the Catholic community that I belong to — the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) — which sums this story best:

Chris Aldeguer comments on Lance vs. AC

Chris Aldeguer

The 96th Tour de France has ended—but the word war just started. No sooner had Alberto Contador arrived in Spain when he unleashed a torrent of insults, saying, “My relationship with Armstrong is nil… I’ve never had a great admiration for him and I never will!”

Ouch. That’s distasteful. And, to a seven-time TDF winner, upsetting and embarrassing. But never one to surrender a fight, Lance responded: “Hey pistolero, there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’ What did I say in March? Lots to learn. Restated.”

Alberto Contador is the new Lance Armstrong

The Tour de France is our planet’s most punishing and excruciating sporting event. It spans 23 days—that’s 21 marathons of pedaling and only two days of rest in-between—covering a total distance of 3,445 kms. From the start in Monaco, it traverses through seven mountain stages, six countries that include Spain, Andorra, Italy, Monaco, Switzerland and (of course!) France, and will finish today, the 26th of July, along the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

I’ve been to the Champs-Elysees. The year was 2001 when my wife Jasmin’s father, Jack Villarosa Mendez, brought our whole family on a European sojourn. That Parisian street, one of the world’s most prominent, I recall as a beauty. And, today, as the 170 or so cyclists joining the TDF will pass through that sight, one man will find the Champs-Elysees with the utmost beauty: Alberto Contador.