I have nothing to hide.
As far as I'm concerned, people can know everything about me if they want: how much money I've made, when I've been a fool or felt regret or shed tears. I don't care. There's no reason to hold anything back. I don't feel the need to be selective in order to create some image of a person who isn't me. I'm me. That's it.
I ended up making a living in a sport where a bunch of men wear spandexand shave their legs — and that's not even the funny part. The funny partis that cycling and its anti-doping program are run by people so incompetent they couldn't even run a Ralphs grocery store. I couldn'talways laugh about it, because they wrecked my life. But I don't ask forsympathy. I take what I'm given in life and try to make some good out ofit, always.
In the end, cycling is a beautiful sport, and it deserves better. It rewards focus, strength, and endurance, and also requires negotiation, teamwork, and a strategic mind. You have to be the best at all those things in order to win the Tour de France, and it's a long journey. Maybe the things I've done or the way I've done them will inspire disbelief, and people will think I lied or made things up. If that's the case, then the only thing I can say is, at least they got to hear the whole story.
It starts in Farmersville, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster County, the heart of Mennonite and Amish country. My family is Mennonite, a branch of the Anabaptist Protestant religion that bases its beliefs on a more literal interpretation of the Bible and encourages nonparticipation in mainstream society. It's related to Amish. Basically, the Amish split from the Mennonites centuries ago to become a more inflexible, conservative sect. The Mennonites embrace modern culture more, but not much more.
We lived on Farmersville Road, where my parents, Paul and Arlene, moved to when they got married thirty-five years ago. The road stretches for miles of white farmhouses, red barns, cornfields, and silos, with no variationexcept maybe when the farmhouse is red and the barn is white.
My parents' house has three bedrooms, one for them and two for the kids. First, my sister Alice filled one of the bedrooms, and then I came along and took over the other. Over the next fifteen years, my parents added Bob, Charity, Priscilla, and Abigail. Until I was nineteen, Bob and I slept in a double bed in one room, and the girls stayed in the other in bunk beds and a double bed.
Some Mennonites are what you'd call "horse-and-buggy," but my parents aremore progressive than that. We had cars, but there was no television orvideo games, no movies, and definitely no alcohol or swearing. We had aradio, but it stayed tuned to a gospel station, and we also played gospel records and sang along. Men wore long pants all the time, and women wore dresses or long pants and kept their hair in buns and wore head coverings — that's still how it is at my parents' house.
The Mennonite life is simple: Glory goes to God, not to the self. You go to church, you work, and you take care of the people around you. Everyonecontributed to the household however they could, with work or chores, but growing up we never had any money. None of the Mennonites did. It was easy to spot a Mennonite kid at the public high school where I went, because we were the quiet ones in whatever plain clothes our parents could find for cheap — completely outside of the world of teenage fashion.
We went to church twice on Sundays and sometimes on Wednesdays, and on top of that there were prayer meetings, Bible school, and seminars with intensive Scripture study.
To support our family, Dad owned a self-serve carwash/ laundry down the road. It never really made much money because almost everyone owned a washer-dryer, and if people weren't going to wash their own cars, they went to an automatic carwash. The equipment at the laundry was old, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how washing machines worked and fixing them.
For a while he made money as a real-estate agent and did other odd jobs. When my uncle was diagnosed with a brain tumor, my dad started driving my uncle's delivery truck part-time to help out, hauling stone to concrete and blacktop plants in Delaware and New Jersey. When my uncle died, Dad kept driving for two years to support my aunt. Then he bought the truck.
My mom stayed home to raise the kids. Every afternoon she practically danced around the kitchen as she made home-cooked dinner with fresh, homemade bread, and if I sat at the big family dining table while she was working, she'd talk to me in a way that sounded almost like a song. My dad always spoke so softly that sometimes you had to lean in to hear him, and he chose every word carefully. I can say with 100-percent certainty that they are the most wonderful parents I could possibly have.
Everything we had was old, so we spent a lot of time making repairs. We had crappy cars that my dad taught me how to work on, even in the middle of winter when my fingers were freezing off. I painted the house and barn, and pruned trees. We had a septic tank that would fill every few months. It had wooden boards on top and we'd have to stick shovels in through theliquid to shovel out the solid parts at the bottom, and by the time wewere done my sneakers would be soaked. Dad wouldn't pay anyone to comepump it out, because he never liked to pay money for anything.
When it was time to have fun, I spent a lot of time with my cousins and my best friend, Eric Gebhard. Eric wasn't Mennonite, but his family wasconservative Christian. His parents were divorced, and he lived with hisfather, so my mom pretty much adopted him and he was at our house all the time.
We went fishing or swimming or swinging off the rope swing in the river down the road. Some of my cousins had an aboveground pool that they stocked with catfish, and we'd fish in the pool, which I'm pretty sure means we were rednecks. If there's any doubt, my family had an aluminum fishing boat we'd take to the river, and Bob, Dad, and I sometimes hunted squirrels from the boat, and that night Mom would make squirrel pie, which doesn't taste very good.
For family vacations, we always went camping, because it was cheap. We'd load up the family van, hitch up the aluminum fishing boat, and pile everyone's bikes into the boat to haul them to the campground.
Everyone in the Mennonite community had bicycles. I once saw a guy riding with a shotgun perched across the handlebar and a rack in back that held the deer he'd just shot. On Sundays the roads were cluttered with Amish horses and buggies and Mennonites on bikes riding to church. Even today, my parents often ride their bikes to church, six miles each way.
My mom taught me how to ride just like she did all my siblings, at the top of the rise in the driveway. I learned on Alice's yellow girl's bike, which Dad had picked out of someone's trash. Mom cheered me on while Alice ran in front of me. "Follow Alice, Floyd," she said. "Look where you're going. Don't look around. When you look around is when you wobble." It didn't take me long to figure it out.
Green Mountain Cyclery was a tiny bike shop in a yellow two-story house a few miles away owned by a couple, Jen and Mike Farrington. In the spring when I was fourteen, my dad drove me there to look at bikes. I walked right to the one I wanted. It was neon green and orange, a Marin Muirwoods fully rigid steel mountain bike. It was last year's model, on sale for three hundred dollars.
"Floyd, I'm not paying that much money for a bicycle," my dad said. If he had his way, I'd keep riding my fifty-dollar Huffy from Kmart and be happy with it. But I wanted something that would last through the beating I was going to give it. Plus, even at three hundred dollars, it wasn't anywhere near the top of the line. But we didn't buy it. We went home.
A few days later, I went to my dad to talk about the bicycle. He said I'd have to pay for it myself, and besides that, he didn't think I needed it. "You already have a nice bike," he said. "But you make that decision yourself, you're old enough to do it."
I went back to him after a few more days and told him I wanted to put a deposit on it. "I'd rather you didn't," Dad said. "But it's up to you." This was my dad's way. We never argued or even had disagreements. He never told me no. It was clear that if I was going to buy it, I'd be going against his wishes, but he believed it was important for me to think through things in life and make my own decisions. I went back to him once more, and he gave me the same answer. "I'd rather you didn't, but it's up to you."
I thought about it for another week, and then I put a deposit on the bike.
Eric and I rode everywhere, and spent entire afternoons practicing wheelies. I could ride a wheelie around the block, which was three miles. We'd find all sorts of stuff to jump off of. Our bikes broke so often that we'd bring a rope on every ride, so we could tow each other home if we had to. When we couldn't fix the bikes ourselves, we went to Green Mountain, and Mike showed us how to and let us use his tools, because we didn't have any money to pay for repairs.
Eventually, we started making pit stops at the shop even when our bikes were fine. Mike called us "shop rats." We liked hanging out, eating whatever Jen gave us, talking bikes, and meeting some of the older guys who raced for the shop's team. There were mountain bike races pretty much every weekend, and Mike also put on a training race every Wednesday night. It didn't take long for me to ask if we could come one Wednesday. Mike said, "If you get permission from your parents, then I'll drive you there."
It was in Brickerville, about 15 miles away. "No, thanks," I said. "We'll ride there." We pedaled up in sweatpants, T-shirts, and sneakers on our three-hundred-dollar bikes. Everyone else had bike shorts and jerseys, biking shoes, and three-thousand-dollar bikes. We got creamed. But we kept going back. Throughout the summer, even when it was ninety-plus degrees, I went on four-hour rides in my sweatpants with Mike and his friends. After acouple of months, I asked Mike, "What about a real race?"
My first beginner race was nine miles. Eric and I rode there, and Jen signed our permission slips. All the different age groups began one-minute apart, with the juniors going last. I started six minutes back, and stillpassed everyone and won the whole race. The following Monday, when I went into the shop, Mike said, "Dude, you've got to race for me." He gave me a yellow-and-blue Green Mountain Cyclery team jersey, which I wore with my orange sweatpants. After a couple of races, he bumped me up to junior expert.
Eric started racing for Mike, too, and we began to train all the time. We read in cycling magazines that to get in shape you should do intervals. If the magazine recommended eight intervals, two minutes hard, two minutes easy, then we'd do fifteen of them, five minutes hard, one minute easy. We thought rest was a waste of time. One day Eric read that pros ride 500 miles a week in the winter, so that's what we did.
The only road that was plowed well enough to ride on all winter was Route 322 to Hershey, 30 miles away. So we'd ride there and back to get the miles in, and nothing stopped us, not even single-digit temperatures with whipping wind and warnings on the radio to stay inside. We put on everything we had to stay warm: cheap long underwear, sweatshirts and sweatpants, big winter coats and gloves, two pairs of socks with plastic bags on our feet in between the layers, and five-dollar sneakers with plastic bags over those. We'd wear ski hats and pull the padding out of our helmets so they'd fit over our hats, and we'd duct tape the vents of the helmets to keep the wind out. The roads were covered in ice and slush, and often we'd finish with icicles hanging off of our bikes.
The next spring, I got a job at the Oregon Dairy market after school asa checker. The only way I could fit riding into the day was to go afterwork. I got off at about 8 or 9 p.m. and rode for two or three hours,sometimes more, by moonlight on Ephrata Mountain. For a while I triedtaping a flashlight to my handlebar, but it kept falling off, so I stopped bothering.
"Now, here's the thing," Mike said. "With the amount you ride, you're going to hurt yourself if you keep wearing those sweatpants." He wanted me to wear padded bike shorts.
First, I wore the shorts underneath my pants, but by the end of a rainy race the sweatpants would weigh ten pounds from all the water and mud. I was sick of them.
"I don't know," I said to Eric one day. "Do you think God really cares if I wear shorts?" I didn't. There was no logical way in my mind that showing my legs during a bike ride could be seen as something self-glorifying or wrong.
"Yeah, I don't know either," he said. Eric and I had a lot of philosophical discussions about the finer points of fundamentalist religion. The beat of rock music was supposed to be a form of communication with the devil, but I found that unlikely. Also, when you're a boy and you're a teenager, there's no getting past the fact that you sometimes think about sex — but that automatically made you a sinner. I couldn't figure out how it could be true that every teenage boy was going to hell. "Well, what about me?" Eric said. "People who get divorced are supposed to be bad people." He was worried that because his parents were divorced he would somehow be bad by association, though he didn't believe his parents were bad people in the first place.
None of it seemed quite right to us, but when you've been told something since you were born, it's hard to question it simply using logic. We thought maybe we just didn't have all the information, and that we shouldcontinue to believe until we knew more. But it was difficult to believe,no matter how hard I tried.
I'm pretty sure my parents didn't realize that I was questioning these things at the time, because we never talked about it. "You're attentive with your Scripture," my dad said to me. I was good at memorizing Scripture because I was good at focusing for hours on end and blocking out everything else around me. It was a contest to me.
I made games out of everything I had to do, whether trimming the hedges, or memorizing Scripture, or working at the Dairy, where the item-scanning machine tracked the number of items scanned per minute, and I held the record. I played the trumpet in the high school marching band, and I was good at it because once I start anything, I become obsessive about it until I master it.
But there was no mastering these questions Eric and I had, and it was driving me crazy inside. I felt guilty for even doubting, and I wanted to believe it all because I knew that would make life easier...but I just couldn't.
A funny thing happened when I got on my bike. It was like therapy for me. As I worked the cranks around and around, I felt like I was emptying myuncertainty through the pedals. Being on a bike was the one time in mylife when everything felt unquestionably right.
I took off the sweatpants and wore shorts to ride.
Dad went to the community auction house, which is sort of like a localeBay without the Internet, and bought a Betamax video camera and playerand a tiny television set — with no antenna, so it was only for watchinghome movies, not TV. "I paid forty dollars for the whole lot," he saidwhen he got home, proud of his bargain. (Although in retrospect, thiswas in the early 1990s, and Betamax was already dead to the rest of theworld so it probably wasn't even worth forty dollars.)
My father videotaped every single thing that happened in our family, especially my bike races. He got into it. On weekends he started driving Eric and me to races that were out of state. Mom would pack us a big cooler full of food and see us off. When we got to the race venue, we'd set up the family tent in the parking lot. Dad used the Coleman camp stove to prepare all our meals, and then he'd get out the Betamax and start filming. In addition to the big camera, there was a separate recorder part that fit into a big shoulder bag that Dad carried. The thing was giant. Once I saw Dad interview some guy on camera, and I asked himafterward, "Who were you talking to?"
"I don't know," he said. "But he thought I was from a TV station because my camera equipment is so big." We laughed about that one all night long.
We drove to Traverse City, Michigan, for the U.S. junior mountain biking championships when I was seventeen. I had only done maybe a dozen real races and by now I had a nicer race bike, but still wore my Green Mountain jersey. The top guys were all sponsored by bike companies, and I beat them all, including the defending world champion.
By being the best junior in the country, I earned a spot on the U.S. team going to the World Championships in Métabief, France, a tiny ski town in the Alps. I had never been on an airplane before, much less out of the country. Back home, Mom pulled the F volume of the encyclopedia down from the shelf, and we looked up France to find where the French Alps were on the map.
I was excited that I'd get to represent my country and hang around the pros who would be racing the same week. By that time, I was hoping to make a living riding my bike. I wanted to show the pros that I had a future in the sport. The morning of my flight, my parents drove me to the Philadelphia airport, and I boarded the plane to Geneva by myself. I'm sure I found the flight strange, but I don't remember anything in particular about it because it wasn't nearly as surreal as the rest of the trip.
Our chaperones from the mountain biking federation picked me up in a bus with a bunch of other juniors and some of the pros whose names I had only read in magazines, such as Mike King, Greg Herbold, and John Tomac. I showed up wanting to be professional like they were, but most of the other juniors weren't nearly so serious. They all seemed to be out for a good time, so they spent their time finding alcohol and drinking, because it was France, where the drinking age is sixteen.
I had never seen a bottle of alcohol in my life. Not only did I see alcohol for the first time on that trip, I'm pretty sure I saw alcoholics for the first time. Our chaperones were drunk the entire trip. One of them even had a glass of wine in his hand as he drove us from our hotel to the race course.
There was one intelligent guy there who I hung out with, Mike O'Reilly,another junior. He was a rich kid with a trust fund, but we got along. In the week before we raced, the people in charge would drive us to the course so we could ride a lap or two for practice. Then they'd set a time to pick us up and drive us back to the hotel.
Mike and I were the only ones to go one day. When we were done riding, nobody came to pick us up — they probably drank too much and forgot about us. Finally Mike said, "Screw it, let's just ride back." It was about 15 miles to where we were staying — not a big deal — so I went along. Mike had the brilliant idea of taking a shortcut over a pasture and through a field and on a dirt road for a while, and then across a big stream. "We can cross this thing, no problem," Mike assured me, but the water was cold — snowmelt from the Alps — and it looked to me like it was moving fast. He dipped his bike in to see how deep it was, and the current submerged his bike and almost pulled Mike in.
We hiked back to the road and went in a different direction. By then it was getting dark, and Mike had some money, so we stopped at a little shop that sold newspapers, magazines, fruit — and bombs.
We thought that the long sticks with the fuse at one end were roman candles. They were only thirty cents each, so, being teenage boys, we bought ten of them. By the time we got back to the hotel, it wasnighttime. The team stored everyone's bikes in an old barn next to thehotel, and the mechanic slept down there so no one stole the bikes. Mikewanted to scare the guy, so we put the bomb in the dirt driveway, lit it, and ran. I thought, Cool, the balls of fire will shoot into the air, the guy will scream, and we'll all have a good laugh.
But they weren't roman candles. They were quarter sticks of dynamite. There was a deep boom so loud that the mechanic thought he was going to die, and it echoed against the buildings and along the narrow streets of the tiny French town. There were stones landing on the roof of the hotel as people came running out to see what happened.
"Holy shit," Mike said, and then, thinking of the trouble we might get in he said, "I didn't hear anything, did you?"
"Nope," I said, terrified. "Not a thing." We got over being scared pretty fast, and over the next few days, we set off our nine other bombs. In that time all the juniors realized they could buy them, too, so the town sounded like a war zone. I had no idea why that place sold dynamite, but every single thing about the trip was strange to me, so at the time it was just one more oddity.
Race day, it was pouring rain. The guys who did well were the ones who were best at jumping off their bikes and running when the mud got deep. My bike didn't have the right tires to race in the slick mud, and I wasexhausted from being out of my element. I finished last. Not just in thelast group of riders, but dead last. I started crying before I evenreached the finish line. I just wanted to go home.
My flight wasn't for three more days, and all the other kids were cutting loose drinking. Not only did I not join in, but I was baffled by it and by the way the entire trip was run. That was my first experience in the world of pro cycling, and it wasn't professional at all. When I got home I was so disappointed, I didn't ride for a couple of months. School was starting,and it was the beginning of my senior year, and I just didn't care.
Of course, that didn't last long. I needed riding to stay sane. I thoughtso much about the Bible and how the literal interpretation didn't seempossible, and the more I analyzed it the more confused I got. It was along process for me to go from Mennonite to whatever I am now. When you're taught something for seventeen years, it's not like you just switch it off. At that point the one thing I knew for sure was that the more I traveled away from Farmersville, the smaller it seemed and the more I wanted to see other places.
I never rebelled in the typical American teenage sense, but I began to embrace culture. I went to a movie in a theater for the first time in 1994 and saw The Lion King, and found it quite good. I bought a portable tape player and headphones, and started listening to country music, and later to AC/DC — though I wouldn't tell anyone what it was because I didn't want my parents to find out.
My parents could tell I was changing and didn't know what to make of me. We never discussed it, though. They didn't try to change me, and I didn'ttry to change them. The rest of the world could learn a lot from the waymy parents live and care about other people. There are many wonderfulthings about their way of life. But when we didn't understand thingsabout one another, we did what most families do: We didn't talk about it.
And I rode.
I got a sponsorship from GT bikes, and started doing expert class races.
"Floyd, you got a phone call," my dad said. It was Will Geoghegan, a prorider who was a few years older than I was. I had met him at a race onceor twice.
"Man, what's up with your dad?" he said to me. "Is he always so quiet? Hey, listen, I need you on my team." Will was organizing a crew for a twenty-four-hour race in West Virginia. Nobody had ever wanted me to be on their team for anything, so I said yes.
Will had sponsors and extra bikes, and he loved to organize things, so he put the whole team together. Our name was Willy and the Poor Boys, and it was Will, me, and two pros, John Stamstad and a guy from Indiana named Art Keith. We had our own team mechanic and stayed in a condo. Will stocked the cupboards with food. I felt like a king with the deluxe setup. "I've never gone to a race and not camped before," I said, and Will looked at me funny.
That night, while the guys were watching TV and making last-minute adjustments to their bikes, I was practicing riding wheelies in the parking lot. "Dude, you gotta come in," Will yelled out to me. "You need to rest. We're going to ride for twenty-four hours straight."
"I don't care," I said. "That's fine with me." I didn't want to stop, so the guys took my bike from me and locked it in a closet. I sat down in front of the TV with them, but because I wasn't used to it, I got boredfast. I fidgeted for a few minutes and then got up.
"Where's Floyd?" Will asked a few minutes later, and then noticed that his bike was gone. I was out in the parking lot doing wheelies on it. He took it away from me.
The next day, Will was preparing for his first lap. "You want an espresso?" he offered. I didn't know what he meant. I had never heard ofespresso and had never had anything with caffeine in it. "Man, you'relike some kind of unfrozen caveman," he said, fixing me my first brew.It wasn't just a shot of espresso. It was a full mug of espresso, whichI followed with a Mountain Dew, the first in my life.
I set out on my lap moving in fast motion compared to the rest of the world. The rush was something I had never come close to experiencing; it felt like I had superpowers. I was convinced I was going to ride the world's fastest lap. The first downhill was a narrow singletrack, and the leaders were in my way, riding too slowly. So I rode off to the side into the tall weeds to try to pass. It was actually working until I hit a stump and flew over my handlebar, pinwheeling down the hill with my bike. When Ifinally came to a stop, I got up to keep riding but the front wheel wasbent into a U-shape. I needed to change the wheel as quickly as possibleand keep going, so I rode a wheelie down the hill back to the condo. Themechanic gave me Will's wheel, and I went back out to do my lap.
I felt terrible about getting the team behind, so throughout the night Will kept giving me coffee and I kept riding faster and faster trying to make up time. We ended up in second place, only about three minutes behind the leaders.
The next couple of summers, Eric and I drove around the country lookingfor expert races with prize money. We drove Eric's pickup with our bikesin the back, and slept wherever we could find that didn't cost money — parking lots, cornfields, golf courses. Churchyards are a good place to sleep, because they're quiet and usually no one bothers you. Baseball fields are good too, as long as they don't have automatic sprinklers that come on at 2 a.m. We learned that one the hard way.
Typically, we won just enough in prize money to pay for gas and food tokeep the trip going. But that second summer, Eric bowed out in California, so I had to find a ride on my own. I was at Mammoth Mountain and needed to get to Spokane, Washington.
One of my buddies from the France trip was there and hooked me up with these guys he had been smoking pot with, who owned an upstart mountain bike clothing company called Show 'Em You're Nuts. I thought the company didn't stand a chance with that name, but this was during mountain biking's heyday, when people bought anything related to the sport as long as it seemed "edgy" or was purple.
I hopped in their truck and we headed out. It never occurred to me that they might at some point pull out their marijuana. I had heard about pot as one of the evil things in society, but I had never considered that I might someday encounter it. Sure enough, halfway through the desert, these guys pulled over on the side of the road for a smoke. One asked me, "You want some?"
"No," I said, stiffening. I walked behind the truck and paced. They sat on the hood and got stupid, saying "deep" things about the stars and the universe. That night, I learned that when people are getting stoned, they become complete idiots to someone who is sober. Then, the Nuts guys got back in the truck. I was scared because I didn't have any idea how they were going to drive after getting stoned. But I didn't really even know how to protest, and I had no idea how I would get to Spokane if I didn't ride with them. So I thought, Oh well, if I die, I die, and climbed in the back of the truck and fell asleep while they drove.
We stayed in downtown Spokane and the race was about 40 miles away at a ski resort. The guys drove me up the mountain the day before the race so they could put up their Show 'Em You're Nuts booth in the expo area, and I could ride around the course. Once they were finished, they left, saying they'd come pick me up later. I pedaled a couple of more laps around the course. When I got back, they weren't there, but I didn't think much of it because there were still all kinds of people milling around, so I hung out and chatted with other riders.
By dusk, everyone else had left, and it started getting cold. I was still in my cycling shorts and jersey. A couple of more hours passed, and still no one came to get me. There was one road down the mountain, and I thought about riding, but I had no idea where to go, and I didn't have any lights for my bike to help me see in the pitch-black night. There were a few condos at the top, but I didn't have any money and didn't know anyone staying in them. By 10 p.m. I hadn't eaten anything, and I was tired. I figured I'd take a nap until they came to get me, because surely they were coming.
To keep warm, I took down a PowerBar banner and put it underneath me, and rolled myself up in another banner. I tried not to shiver, but the cold kept me from really sleeping. That, and fear. It was so dark, and the woods were thick — I had no idea what else was out there. I had images of a wild animal coming to attack me.
I must have eventually dozed a little, because I woke up to, "Dude, what are you doing?" It was one of the Nuts guys, who showed up at 6 a.m. to finish setting up the expo area and found me rolled up like a burrito.
"What am I doing?" I asked. "You guys were supposed to come get me." Then he remembered and said, "Oh, man," a lot, and offered to let me take a nap in the back of the truck until the race. I slept for two hours, and then got third in the race.
Afterward, I saw Will. "I am so mad," I said. "I should have won that race." I told him the whole story, about how I hadn't slept or eaten, and how all my stuff was still in the hotel in Spokane, so I had no money or clothes to change into.
"You're kidding me," Will said, laughing. "You slept in your bike shorts? That is rough. I'm staying in a condo a couple hundred yards from here. You could have crashed there." He invited me there to clean up.
I took a hot shower while Will turned on the TV and flipped around the channels until he found a bike race. It was the Tour de France. I had never seen it or even heard of it. "The thing is absolutely brutal," Will said. It covers more than 2,000 miles over three weeks, he explained, and goes over some of the steepest, harshest roads in the Alps and Pyrenees. The whole race is a traveling circus that starts and finishes in a different city each day, making a different loop around the country each year. The rider who does it the fastest wins the yellow jersey, and is considered to be the best cyclist in the world.
On the screen, we saw this pack of about twelve guys flying, handlebar-to-handlebar. The road started going up, and this one rider in a blue-and-red Motorola jersey took off like he was possessed. By the top of the climb, he was all alone. "That guy's crushing everyone," I said. The announcers explained that three days before, a Motorola rider named Fabio Casartelli had died when he crashed on a high-speed descent in the Pyrenees. The possessed Motorola rider, whose name was Lance Armstrong, had been close friends with Casartelli. Coming down the final stretch to the finish line, Armstrong pointed to the sky and blew a kiss upward toward heaven in remembrance of his teammate. Then he won a stage of the Tour de France.
I decided right then that if the winner of that race was the best in the world, then that was the race I wanted to win. Of course, at the time I was just a decent mountain biker, not even a pro. And I didn't have a plan for how to achieve my new goal, or even a clue where to start. The Tour was a long, long way from sleeping wrapped up in sponsor banners at a ski slope outside Spokane. But there it was. There was my dream.
Copyright © 2007 by Floyd Landis