Lance Askance

If my lifespan was converted into seconds, the total is in the ballpark of 1,235,088,000. Of the approximate 1.2 billion seconds I’ve been alive, a mere 20 have been spent one-on-one with Lance Armstrong—May 4, 1996 in a Greensboro, NC hotel lobby—and that’s all the time it takes sometimes for primal, survival instincts to kick in to the point where one wonders if a punch to the face is imminent. A punch to my face. But let’s back track a minute to set the stage for this fleeting encounter with a future 7x Tour de France champion.

Stage 4 of the 1996 Tour DuPont was a sweltering affair…110 searing miles of shade-free tarmac between Raleigh, NC and Greensboro, NC made even more uncomfortable by nearly 110 miles of headwinds, to boot. Everyone in the peloton was surely looking forward to their air-conditioned rooms at the race hotel situated about 50 meters past the finish line. Well…maybe not the Euro pros, who seem to have a superstitious aversion to AC. Tony Rominger and company probably donned both leg warmers and long-sleeved jerseys immediately post-race and cranked the heat in their rooms to fully recreate the stifling oppression of crappy French hotels in summertime (but I digress…). Lance Armstrong, due to extended post-stage podium commitments, media commitments and a trip to drug-testing controls, was the last rider (by a longshot) to walk into the Four Seasons lobby. He made a steadfast beeline to the elevators, undoubtedly dreaming about cracking open a few Shiner Bocks in an Artic-cooled luxury suite, and ran smack into a stalker parked in front of the elevator bank with a Sharpie in hand asking to autograph a 2-page, Graham Watson book spread.

That stalker would be me.

And this is a closed-caption translation of the expression on Lance’s face since not a word was spoken in our entire 20 second encounter: “Fuck…fuck…fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckityfuckfuck…I—just—want—to—lie—down …upstairs…with cold beer…and you’re in my way”. In a fervor of activity Lance tossed his bike up against the wall, started signing away, and then simultaneously 1. his bike started to tip over in slow motion and 2. the elevator door next to us opened. The casualty in this equation was me. Or more accurately, my Graham Watson book. By the time I could pick the book and pen up off the floor (both dropped by Lance in a heartbeat in lieu of saving his bike from hitting the deck) Lance was already safely ensconced in an elevator several floors above me and rising. Here is what he left me with:

Lance Armstrong's scrawl

It kind of looks like he managed “Lance A” before he had to pitch my book.

If many hundred of years in the future somebody finds it and tries to read Lance’s cryptic scrawl, it will probably be analogous to this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

KNIGHT: There! Look!
LAUNCELOT: What does it say?
GALAHAD: What language is that?
ARTHUR: Brother Maynard, you’re our scholar!
MAYNARD: It’s Aramaic!
GALAHAD: Of course! Joseph of Aramathea!
KNIGHT: What does it say?
MAYNARD: It reads, ‘Here may be found the last words of Joseph of
Aramathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail
in the Castle of uuggggggh’.
MAYNARD: ‘… the Castle of uuggggggh’.
BEDEMIR: What is that?
MAYNARD: He must have died while carving it.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, come on!
MAYNARD: Well, that’s what it says.
ARTHUR: Look, if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘aaggggh’.
He’d just say it!
MAYNARD: Well, that’s what’s carved in the rock!
GALAHAD: Perhaps he was dictating.
ARTHUR: Oh, shut up. Well, does it say anything else?
MAYNARD: No. Just, ‘uuggggggh’.
LAUNCELOT: Aauuggghhh.
KNIGHT: Aaauggh.

Or is this case…Lance Aaaauuugggh.


For some unknown, random reason I have a video clip of the final kilometer of the 2005 Ghent-Wevelgem saved on my hard drive. Every now and then I’ll stumble across it, watch it, and probably 97% of the time I’ll wonder how Nico Mattan can look himself in the mirror regarding the manner he won (arguably) the biggest race of his career…playing motorpace Frogger with various cars and motorcycles shadowing Juan Antonio Flecha. I wonder if Flecha got one of these for his New Year’s party. It’s the least Mattan could do. But really…what do you expect when a pro wins a marquee event almost within sight of his home. Just ask Levi Leipheimer about creative interpretations of the rulebook favoring a native son.

Lately, however, my lukewarm (at best) regard for Nico Mattan may warrant a radical revamping based on an amazing anecdote in the September 2007 Cycle Sport. Mattan, in cahoots with his cycling-mad Flemish entourage, planned the all-time great Tour de France meet-and-greet during stage 2 of the 2001 Tour from Calais to Antwerp. The route wasn’t going through his home town, but it did pass fairly close by within West Flanders. Mattan arranged for a flatbed trailer to be situated on the Tour route resplendent with his family, friends, fans, a Belgian TV crew, and ramps(!!!) at either end for a seamless entry/exit via his bike. Then, Mattan worked his ass off to get in and then motor the early break so it would survive until the trailer. Let’s just let Nico tell in his own words exactly what happened as the break approached the rendezvous point…

“As we neared the Belgian border the [Cofidis] director said over the radio, ‘Now, you are not going to stop are you Nico?’ I didn’t answer and he started to panic and said, ‘Nico, this is the Tour de France and you are in the break, you can’t stop.’ But I still didn’t answer.

“We got nearer and nearer to the trailer and the director got even more impatient. ‘Nico, Nico, don’t stop.’ But I did, and as I rode up the ramp I could still hear him shouting, ‘No Nico, don’t do it!’ I gave my interview, I spoke to my family and then I got on my bike and rode back into the race.”


Every now and then I hear of bizarre goings on during races, such as a certain pro that stopped at a roadside yard sale during a stage of a New England stage race and bought a waffle iron. And then transported it across the finish line. If I recall correctly, he was OTB and just trying to make the time cut when he took his detour. Stuff like that just cracks me up. But during le Tour??? Mattan didn’t finish too badly rolling in 28th and best Cofidis finisher (both stage and GC). But that takes some serious balls to motor a Tour de France break and then consciously remove yourself from said-break just to stop on the side of the road for your friends, family, and the media. Mattan told his director that the break was doomed once the course turned east towards Antwerp due to the wind so it didn’t matter that he bailed when he did. And yes, the break got caught just as Mattan predicted. But still…I don’t think I’d want to deal with my DS post-race following such a preposterously cheeky move on a world stage.