There may have been more gifted athletes to ply their craft over the last 10 years, but none has been more interesting than
Between 1999 and 2005, Armstrong won seven Tours de France, two more than anyone, ever. While not the greatest rider of all time --
In 2009, at the age of 38, Armstrong came out of retirement, having spent the previous 3½ years making speeches, running marathons, taking the fight to cancer and dating assorted blondes of various vintages. Despite snapping his right clavicle in a crash last March, and despite an absence of the climbing legs and time-trialing prowess that had marked his dynastic run, he scratched and clawed and willed himself onto the podium at this year's Tour. That third-place finish was a more dramatic result, to my mind, than most of his Tour wins, which he tended to have wrapped up midway through the third quarter.
The French finally warmed to him last July, appreciating the fact that, at long last, he showed human weakness. Nor did it hurt, in their eyes, that in the months leading up to the race, Armstrong was drug-tested with almost comical frequency by an alphabet soup of governing bodies. It can be said with conviction: He raced the '09 Tour clean.
That's not intended to cast doubt on his seven previous Tours. Until such time as he is proved to have doped (Armstrong has always adamantly denied such allegations), he is entitled to the presumption of innocence, threadbare though that presumption may be in a sport known to have been riddled with riders addicted to performance-enhancing drugs like so many spindly armed crack fiends.
If everyone around him was cheating, as many of his longtime rivals turned out to have been, how he was able to crush them while riding clean? "Sometimes," he once told me, "people come along with 12 cylinders."
He wasn't just a 12-cylinder freak, in this version of the story. He was a
Ever open to new ideas, Armstrong was one of the first athletes to harness the power of Twitter. As of this writing, he has
The skeptics and critics, the doubters and haters -- and there are many -- accuse him of cloaking himself in the fight against cancer the better to ward off doping accusations. As Armstrong asks