Does Lance’s Performance Hurt or Help Cancer Survivors?

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In 2008 when Lance Armstrong announced his return to professional cycling he made it quite clear that he was intending to use his media presence to help promote his “Global Cancer Initiative.” (Source: SportsIllustrated.com) SI’s Austin Murphy wrote “Earlier that morning, at the CGI’s “Plenary Session,” Armstrong had been introduced by former president Bill Clinton, who lauded him for the Livestrong Global Cancer Initiative that is being rolled out in lockstep with his return to racing.”

Has Lance’s performance in the pro peleton in 2009 and 2010 helped or hurt his campaign, and by extension cancer survivors?

I’m not trying to be facetious here–while I’ve known several people with cancer it hasn’t touched me as directly as many who are part of the Livestrong campaign. When Lance was on his Tour de France winning streak I talked with and read the stories of many cyclists who were inspired by Lance’s domination of professional cycling after winning his battle against cancer. I’ve personally donated a large amount of money to the campaign to support people participating in his (and other) events.

So do things change now that Lance’s last tour didn’t manage to get him on the podium and saw him falling meters short of having the power to win a stage on this year’s tour?

Perhaps part of this comes from listening to a recent Radiolab podcast on the topic of deception. The whole episode is excellent but the one salient portion had to do with the way that professional athletes have to lie to themselves in order to win. When faced with the overwhelming odds against them becoming an Olympic athlete it’s those that can convince themselves that they’re going to win, that they’re the best who consistently perform the best.

In other words, part of why people win is because they tell themselves they’re going to win. Medical studies show similar results. People who tell themselves that they’ll beat the odds and overcome an illness are more likely to do so than those who think that their condition is terminal.

So the question (that as someone who has never been diagnosed with cancer I cannot answer) is this: “would it have been better motivation for cancer survivors to have the story of Lance’s cycling career end with his seventh victory than to have two lackluster races become part of the legacy?”

Does Lance showing his mortal-ness help or hinder the motivation he’s provided to so many survivors?



8 Comments

I think you’re asking a valid question, David.

And as someone who’s had a wee bout with bladder cancer and has been touched by many family and friends with that lovely condition, I can tell you it doesn’t matter to me one bit!

I’m also a cyclist, and I know just how hard it must be to ride ONE Tour, let alone the number that Lance has under his belt.

Part of competing is the possibility of losing. There are nearly 200 riders in a Tour. One wears the maillot jaune down the Champs-Elysees.

And maybe I’m weird, but even at 43, I know I’m gonna die. It likely won’t be the bladder cancer. And it hopefully won’t be for a long time. But SOMEthing is gonna get me, just like everyone else.

Lance has used his fame for a good thing with Livestrong. And he’s been a remarkable athlete. So what if he doesn’t win his last TdF? More important to compete with honour, I think.

Interesting post; especially with this being the most marketed Tour ever. I argued earlier that this one seems like it’s for the money and I’m exhausted by the commercialism. With that I understand it’s le Tour—it was made to sell newspaper, but it seems more over-the-top than usual with all the plugging the marketing. That being said, I’ve spent time with [Doug Ulman](http://bikehugger.com/2010/03/talking-with-doug-ulman-today.html) and the Livestrong crew and respect the work they’re doing. I wish Lance would’ve gone out at the top of his game and do not believe the press reports that he’s enjoying just riding along. It bugs me when a commuter challenge goes down and I get dropped on a downtown climb. He wanted to win yesterday and didn’t—that shows, but I think it does no harm to the cause. As I often say during the Tour, our criticism or praise for Lance is reserved for his performance as a bike racer and stops at the work he does for cancer, he’s heroism, and legacy. I expect we’ll see some trying times for him in the press soon, swirling around the Federal investigation. How he handles himself in that case will have more of a lasting impact.

I dunno that it bothers me at all. 

I’d attribute the last two years more to aging than to being a cancer survivor.  I kinda wish he hadn’t come back at all last year, but I guess he had his reasons.

I do hate to see people get old, including me! :D

In the 2009 after 4 years of not riding he returned to the pro tour as a promotional vehicle. He wasn’t hiding it. He was upfront. We understand his cause. He, through his foundation, has raised in excess of $250M. Good on him.

That year (2009) he broke his collarbone, but was well enough to start the TDF. In the 2009 Tour de France Lance finished third behind Contador and Andy Schleck. Not bad for someone who hadn’t been competitively riding for quite a while.

This year he’s been hampered by gastroenteritis which forced his withdrawal from 3 events. He turns up at the Tour of California crashed quite heavily and withdrew. Pure bad luck.

He then fronted up at the Tour de Suisse and finished 12 seconds behind Frank Schleck in second place.

Then he managed a third at the Tour de Luxembourg behind Carrara and Frank Schleck again. This time only 30 seconds behind the winner. This is only a month ago and 18 months after returning from a long absence.

Now he’s at the 2010 Tour de France, and as we’ve seen he hasn’t been immune to all of the crashing in the first week. He’s not the only big name struggling either. In stage 3 on the pave he put in a huge effort to ride back to the group after copping a puncture. In stage 16 he was in that breakaway from the start (~5km). They all fought well trying to break each other, attacking like it was fun. In the end he left his run in the sprint a little late. So be it. That’s racing.

He’s admitted that last year he didn’t come back as prepared as he would have liked. So be it. I can’t help but take my hat off to him.

I think you’ve jumped the gun here. Did you research what he has achieved in the last 2 years or did you just see him struggling in the TDF and make an assumption that he’s past it?

Well put and I think readers may have been put off by the title. I posted to Facebook earlier how he seemed to have karma behind him for 7 years. I know of no flats, one crash, bonk, and dehydration. These past two years it’s all happening. Is that cause his team isn’t dominating?

>>I think you’ve jumped the gun here. Did you research what he has achieved in the last 2 years or did you just see him struggling in the TDF and make an assumption that he’s past it?<<

You’re missing my point. I’m bot saying he isn’t a tremendous athlete. He is. And this seas n he has battled crashes and illness.

For seven tours he said he wanted to Win and he did. That was a huge mythology for Livestrong participants and hugely motivational for survivors.

He stated in 2008 and 2010 that he wanted to win, and both times he did not.

My question was this: does the more mortal seem in Lance detract from the motivational power of his mytthology?

Thats it. It’s not besmirching his power as a racer.  He’s a monster and even when he does poorly it’s still better than most riders did on their best day.

I’m asking cancer survivors if the last two years helps or hurts them visualize overcoming cancer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “and if he could overcome cancer to win seven tours, I can overcome cancer.” is it as meaningful with “and if he could win seven times but then come in third and then out of the top contenders…”

The answer might be a resounding yes. I don’t know, Its not something vie had to face, but it’s something I’m curious about.

Yeah, I’d hazard the same guess. As a fellow thirty-something going on forty, I’d say its probably quite normal that he would eventually not win le Tour.

Considering the number of miles and the speed at which he’s ridden, the elevation gain, the 2 days of rest in 20 stages… I’m still completely blown away and inspired. For me, that cuts through all the marketing… and the scandals.

Don’t disagree on the whole with that and another perspective from [Jim Litke, AP](http://www.salon.com/wires/sports/07/25/D9H6D4C80_cyc_armstrong_s_last_ride/):

> This time around, he was plagued by cobblestones and flat tires, caught up in crashes and no longer a factor even before the midway point of the race. He eventually faded to 23rd, almost 40 minutes behind the winner. The consolation, noble as it seemed to the rest of us looking on, is that Armstrong, scraped up and sore as any 38-year-old could ever be, didn’t quit. But being an also-ran was never good enough for Armstrong before. And the sting of this defeat could linger even longer because of a federal investigation launched earlier this year following accusations of doping by Floyd Landis, another former teammate, that one or more of Armstrong’s seven tour titles were achieved by doping

I think we’ve all known personalities like this, while far removed from the level of Lance that are not happy unless they win. No kind words for Alberto, just riding along strategy (which I didn’t believe, he was hurt bad in that crash) and then suddenly it’s the 28 kits as a marketing stunt.

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