When people find out I used to be a bike racer, they usually ask, “Was Lance on drugs?”
I was a contemporary of Lance and started racing with him when we were juniors in the 1980’s. I also raced with him in elite races when he was already a Euro pro and world champion and he would come back to the States to slum-it in races like the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic, Superweek or the Olympic Trials. That was before the cancer and all those Tour de France victories.
I don’t know what, if anything, Lance was on back then or what, if anything, he might have been on since. (It was his bike if you believe his Nike commercial.)
What I can tell you is about a memorable (for me, at least) race against him. In 1997, I had just retired from bike racing and was working for CycleOps developing their “electronic trainer”, a training device that would simulate real-world routes and conditions with all the useful bio information. We had somehow managed a deal whereby we would be one of Lance’s exclusive sponsors (along with Nike and Oakley) in his comeback from cancer. We would launch the new bike trainer and announce the sponsorship deal at the Interbike Trade Show with a press event that included Lance demonstrating the new trainer in a head-to-head race…against me.
The press conference was at 10AM. Two electronic trainers were setup in front of video monitors in the center of the booth. On the screens were virtual race courses showing the respective positions of each of the racers. One for Lance. One for me. I had been awake for almost 36 hours debugging the shaky prototype system with a small team of engineers. I must have raced the one mile course 60 or more times in a pizza-and-beer-fueled all-nighter. I was sweaty, smelly, unshaven and senseless from fatigue. I could vaguely remember a warning from one of the engineers, “Keep it under control. If that flywheel comes off, it could kill somebody.”
The race started and the international cycling press looked on. We went out pretty easy — it was just for show after all — running even on the video screens. But then I started to pull away. Lance shifted into a bigger gear. And the flywheel started to wind up.
We went mano-a-mano for the full mile. At the finish, I crossed the line first, throwing my arms up, like some kind of jackass, in a victory salute. The crowd erupted in a combination of shock, amusement and confusion. Then I leaned over to Lance and said something like, “Nice race. Are there any spots open on your team?” I didn’t know that he had just been dumped by his Cofidis team…because his cancer recovery had prevented him from fulfilling his race obligations.
Lance wasn’t happy about the race. It must have felt like a set-up. I tried to explain what had happened. Almost immediately after the start, there had been a glitch in the system: the clocks were out of synch and there was no way Lance could have possibly won. I did have to keep up with him, otherwise the whole thing would have crashed and that wouldn’t have been good for sales. He didn’t want to hear it.
A few hours later, I passed out from exhaustion behind the trade show booth. While I slept, Lance took various members of the press out back to have a look, saying, “Sure he beat me, but now look at him.”