The Long Ride

How did Lance Armstrong manage the greatest comeback in sports history?

  1. A couple of weeks ago, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the passenger seat of a small Volkswagen, careering so rapidly around the hairpin turns of the French Alps that I could smell the tires burning. Johan Bruyneel, the suave, unflappable director of the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, was behind the wheel. Driving at ninety kilometres an hour occupied half his attention. The rest was devoted to fiddling with a small television mounted in the dashboard, examining a set of complicated topographical maps, and talking into one of two radio transmitters in the car. The first connected Bruyneel to the team’s support vehicle, laden with extra bicycles, water bottles, power bars, and other tools and equipment. The second fed into the earpieces of the eight U.S. Postal Service cyclists who were racing along the switchbacks ahead of us. The entire team could hear every word that Bruyneel said, but most of the time he was talking to just one man: Lance Armstrong.

    We had been on the road for about three hours and Armstrong was a kilometre in front of us, pedalling so fast that it was hard to keep up. It was the sixth day of the Dauphiné Libéré, a weeklong race that is run in daily stages. Armstrong doesn’t enter races like the Dauphiné to win (though often enough he does); he enters to test his legs in preparation for a greater goal—the Tour de France. Since 1998, when he returned to cycling after almost losing his life to testicular cancer, Armstr...