What's Cool In Road Cycling

Interview: LANCE Gets Pez’d!

To say that Lance Armstrong’s world spins a little faster than most could be the understatement of the year, it seems all eyes in cycling are constantly fixed on Big Tex, including ours at PEZ. This week the stars lined up and our interview request was granted just in time for his Tour de Georgia start, and much anticipated pre-race Press Conference.

Even though Lance’s busy schedule wouldn’t let us sit down in person, through the miracle of modern technology, the telephone, and a Radio Shack tape recorder, we tapped into his fast spinning world – for a few minutes.

Lance mixed it up with the SoCal locals last week in Ojai at the Garrett Lemire Memorial race.

Things start with Lance’s PR guru and friend Mark Higgins calling my home with Lance on speaker phone from Los Angeles, while his assistant Dave Bolch gives him a post ride massage. In a few seconds I hear Lance’s unmistakable voice on the line with a hearty “TED!” Higgins chimes back in to tell me I have 10 minutes. I get right to business because our question list is 20 minutes long.

PEZ: Thanks very much for talking with us again—it means a lot.

Lance: No worries…

PEZ: We’d like to start with a short recap on your racing this season – is the form where you want it to be? Your mother told us that your training was going “epic”.

Lance: I haven’t raced much so it’s difficult to say. I can look at the training and the SRM and be happy with what that tells me, and I am, but I haven’t really produced any results yet, so I am hesitant to say that I am right on track. We’ll see next week in Georgia. It will be a good barometer and I think it will be hard to repeat there because Bobby’s (Julich) riding well and Levi (Leipheimer) is going to be a factor.

PEZ: How did Flanders go for you, it’s a different race for compared to your typical early season lead-in?

Lance: It’s really the most epic of the monuments—if you compare the five, San Remo, Flanders, Roubaix, Liege, Lombardy, it’s (Flanders) that’s the most beautiful classic and I keep telling George that. Selfishly, if I could see George win one race it would be Flanders because it is the Queen of the classics. From a race standpoint it was tough, I have never been that cooked after a bike race, I completely buried myself and tried to do what I could for the team. I didn’t have that many race days in my legs so I suffered like a dog.

PEZ: Speaking of George how hard was it seeing him get so close at Paris-Roubaix?

Lance: I have mixed emotions because he’d never been on the podium and he always wanted that – he accomplished that, but at the same time it’s rare that you get to roll into that velodrome and get to be sprinting for the win. You can’t take those moments for granted. I know that he has probably replayed it a dozen times in his head but Boonen is two things: strong, and fast.

I didn’t watch it because we were en route to a race (Ojai) but we were getting updates from people all over the place—Och (Jim Ochowicz) was in the velodrome infield calling so that was truly live, Chris Brewer was sending updates on the Blackberry and Sheryl was at home watching on the internet calling every two seconds. We actually Tivo’d it but I have yet to watch it.

”Is that a call from PEZ…? Yeah I’ll take it…”

PEZ: Tell us about the circuit race in Ojai, on your website you mentioned the race was “Just like back in the old days” talk about what it’s like now to jump in a smaller race – how do the lesser known pro’s and amateurs guys react?

Lance: It was great to be there – I was surprised at how many people were but have since found out that it was a fairly big race. It was tough, it was a little bit of a shock getting in there and trying to remember the way those things are raced and trying to play off a few teams. There was some team work going on and it was hard to beat that. People don’t understand that you can do all the European racing you but when you jump into a race where every corner the riders are jumping and accelerating – I mean these guys ride their bikes very fast. I have a lot of respect for them.

PEZ: For the Tour de Georgia next week do you feel like you have to go in with the strategy of “I have to win because fans expect it” or more like you want the best training possible for France.

Lance: I’m going with the attitude that I am going to give it my best.

PEZ: How important for domestic racing and growth of the sport at home is the Tour de Georgia?

Lance: It’s really important. We need to build it up and get it on the Pro Tour calendar and then you’ll have a 160-man field with the best-of-the-best from all over the world. If we can get to that point and keep the sponsors interested, and keep the public interested it goes along way in progressing, building, and developing cycling in America.

PEZ: Switching gears let’s talk a little about the Tour de France. Over the years this has become arguably “your” race. How has your attitude towards it changed over the years? Do you look forward to it with little kid at Christmas excitement or more like a race to be won?

Lance: Every year is a new year and we all start with a clean slate. If you win by 5 minutes one day then you get to keep the jersey the next day, but after 3 weeks, what did I win by last year 6 minutes? (pause, followed by laughs when nobody comes up with the exact margin of victory) the next year you start with zero. It’s the best attitude to have, to know that everybody else is gunning for it. The competition seems like it’s getting tighter and tighter – last year was an incredibly special year, everything went right, the team was perfect, I felt great and a lot of the rivals completely disappeared so that was a nice mix for us.

PEZ: What about this year?

Lance: I think that this year will be a very interesting tour because Ullrich looks better than ever and you have this young generation of riders like Cunego or Valverde. Then you have the returning guys like Basso and Vinokourov so it’s going to be a great race, good for the fans.

PEZ: From the standpoint that this may be your last Tour de France as a racer will you treat each moment a little differently?

Lance: I don’t know yet, it’s tough to say now.

PEZ: After accomplishing so much in cycling you are still very motivated to win races – what keeps you motivated and keeps you training to win?

Lance: It’s the love of the job, the thrill of victory and the fear of losing. When I say the fear of losing I mean if I lost one I could go home and crack open a cold beer and live with it, but it would be hard to look across the table at teammates, sponsors, fans, and say “I’m Sorry”.

PEZ: I’ve heard you mention that when you retire you’d like to use your experience to help up and coming riders. Is that still a priority – to be fresh off the bike and be able to relate and transfer what you’ve learned to a guy like Popovych or someone young on your team?

Lance: The program is here for three years if not longer, and with the organization that has grown used to winning the Tour de France. The sponsors have grown used to that, so we want to win either with myself or somebody else. I am a fan of the team, their number one fan and a supporter, so when the day comes when I am not there anymore it’s in my best interest as a selfish fan to want us to keep winning. I’ll pass on everything I know to a Popovych or whoever comes along – I mean a couple guys come to mind but they’re on other teams right now.

At this point Mark Higgins adeptly announces that Lance only has time for one more question, successfully distracting us long enough to miss asking just which “couple of guys” Lance means. Lance chimes in that “Higgins is the bad guy.” With more than a few questions left on the priority list I scramble over my notes, during the pause Lance says “okay, two more”.

PEZ: How would you address the notion that interest in cycling in the United States may decline when you leave?

Lance: (Pausing) It’s tough for me to answer because you’re asking me to answer about the “me” factor and that’s not my style. I use Tiger Woods as an example a lot, especially for attracting a different type golf audience, a more diverse golf audience, more of a true slice of America and Tiger has done that. Then he goes 10 or 11 majors, I forget the exact number but I can honestly say that golf was beginning to fade. The attendance at the tournaments, the TV numbers, sponsor interest, it seemed to be different to me and lo and behold – Tiger makes a big run this weekend and wins the Masters. I saw the TV numbers over Phil Michelson’s win last year and the difference was huge, it was astronomical how many people watched the masters because Tiger was winning. I hope that that doesn’t happen to cycling. I’m a fan of the race scene, but I am also a fan of the bicycle industry. I think the bike is the best piece of exercise equipment known to man. I hope it continues to thrive and I hope that average citizens realize that.

Lance will be back at the Tour of Courage in Calgary in Sept. ’05, and hopefully bringing his riding buddies…

PEZ: We’re excited to be returning as the official online media partner for the Tour of Courage, and also that the Tour of Hope is also back for 2005, can you talk briefly about each event?

Lance: They’ve both been around about the same amount of time and have done great things – I’ll actually ride the majority of the Tour of Hope route whereas other years I have had to come in and out. This year I’ll be there a lot more and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of the country than I have ever seen before.

Then the Tour of Courage guys set out to do something in five years and they did in somewhere like 18 or 19 months so they are doing great work. To me Calgary was one of the biggest surprises because I haven’t been to Canada much and never been to Calgary, but you get up there and realize it’s an unbelievable city, great people, clean city, exercise friendly and good bike riding.

PEZ: Thanks again for talking with us Lance, it’s much appreciated by us and the PEZ-Fans.

Lance: You bet, there are not many bike rags I talk to but I like PEZ.

As I take a another moment to say thanks I mention enjoying working for PEZCYCLING, Higgins adds in that I’ll probably get to “keep my job another month now” to which Lance responds that if I am “about to get “sh*tcanned” to call him for an interview so I can keep the job. Now I just have to think of a creative way to get fired once a month or so and take Lance up on the offer.

Check out these related stories:
Lance To Complete “Courage” Cancer Fundraising
Linda Armstrong Kelly: The PEZ Interview
The First Lance Interview on PEZ (Jan. 2004)

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