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Armstrong overcomes cancer to win Tour de France

 Star Treatment
Lance Armstrong joins ESPN's Chris Fowler to recap his Tour de France victory.
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 Tour de Lance
Fresh off a fourth consecutive victory, Lance Armstrong has his eye on title No. 5.

 Ode to Lance
Hard work and determination translate to a third straight Tour de France title for Lance Armstrong (Courtesy: OLN).
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Armstrong cycles hope across the miles
By Hillary Wasch
Special to

"People don't want autographs. They want to touch him because to them he's a hope machine," says Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong's performance in the mountains was enough to all but lock up his third straight Tour de France title in 2001.
The mountains melt before him. The miles, thousands of them, fall away under his relentless, single-minded onslaught. Lance Armstrong, a lean, sinewy Texan, appears to be the closest thing to a machine that a human can come.

But the man on a bike has become far more than that, more than just the very best athlete in his sport. He is a symbol of hope and inspiration to all those cancer patients tethered to their chemotherapy drip poles. They see him pedaling with a demonic ferocity and he kindles in them a burning will and he replenishes their spirits.

In 1996, an oncologist pronounced a fatal sentence over Armstrong, assessing his chances of survival at less than 50 percent. Armstrong's response was to rise from his sick bed and win the oldest, longest, hardest race on earth -- the Tour de France.

And then win it the next six years to become the first to ever capture the race seven times. And as he pedaled on and on, there was no way to measure what he did by any of the conventional standards of sports because he didn't hit a baseball, didn't throw a football, didn't dribble a basketball. He rode a bike, and every July from 1999 to 2005, he was back again, an American in Paris, taking another triumphant trip down the Champs-Elysees.

With each victory, his legend grew, especially to cancer survivors throughout the world. .

Born on Sept. 18, 1971 in Dallas to 17-year-old Linda Mooneyham, his father left before Lance was two. When he was three, Linda remarried, to Terry Armstrong, who later adopted her young son. But after several cases of beating Lance and cheating were uncovered, Linda got a divorce when Lance was 14.

The two moved to an apartment in Richardson, north of Dallas. Across the street was the Richardson Bike Mart and the store's owner, Jim Hoyt, gave Armstrong a deal on his first bike, a Schwinn Mag Scrambler.

Growing up in a football-crazed state, Armstrong felt pressure to play the sport. When he realized he wasn't coordinated enough to participate, he felt like an outcast. He needed to find something to channel his energy into.

In elementary school, Armstrong had won a distance-running race. He had joined a local swim club. Later, he would compete in triathlons. However, in high school, he began focusing more on becoming a cyclist, and began entering bike races, riding for Hoyt's Richardson Bike Mart team. At 16, he trained with riders who were in their 20s.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong took cycling seriously in high school and participated in his first international race in 1990.
His first international race was the 1990 Junior World Championships in Moscow. He finished 11th.

At the 1992 Olympics, he came in 14th. Later in the year, he turned pro and in his first race, the Classico San Sebastian in Spain, he finished last, 27 minutes behind the winner. But two days later, in the Championship of Zurich, he proved to himself that he had the potential to succeed as he took second.

Racing on the professional circuit in Europe eight months of the year, he was turning into a world-class cyclist. He also was gaining enemies as his harsh American attitude turned off many European fans.

In the summer of 1993, Armstrong began a run of success, winning the Thrift Drug Triple Crown of Cycling in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. He also became the youngest rider -- at 21 -- to win a Tour de France stage. However, he withdrew before the race was finished.

Later that year, he won the World Championship in Oslo, Norway. While he proved he could handle the single-day race, he still had difficulty competing long distance.

In 1996, Armstrong finally seemed to be reaching his potential. In the spring, he became the first American to win the Fleche-Wallonne in Belgium. He won the Tour Du Pont, a 12-day, 1,225-mile race in the Carolinas, as his ranking jumped to No. 1.

Cycling is a sport of self-abuse. Riders fight through the aches and pains that are inflicted on them every race. Most of the injuries are ignored. Armstrong routinely ignored his pain.

But in 1996, the pain became unbearable. He suffered exhaustion, drowsiness, headaches, dizziness and vision problems. His testicle swelled up so big, he could barely sit on his bike seat. Finally, he called his doctor.

Armstrong learned he had testicular cancer on October 2. The next day, he underwent surgery to remove the testicle. After the tumor was removed, further blood tests showed the cancer was spreading rapidly up his blood stream.

Armstrong had stage three testicular cancer, the most severe form; it had spread to his lymph nodes in his abdomen and all the way up to his lungs. An MRI revealed that the cancer had made its way to his brain.

In late October, two lesions on his brain were removed. The doctors altered his chemotherapy to preserve his lungs so that there would be a possibility of him racing again. In December, Armstrong took his last chemo treatment. A month later, his blood tests came back normal.

Also in January 1997, he launched his cancer foundation and the Ride of the Roses. At the press conference, he met Kristin Richard, an account executive for an advertising and public relations firm who had done work for the Ride of the Roses. They married in May 1998 and have three children, a son Luke (born in October 1999) and twin daughters Isabella and Grace (born in November 2001).

In September 1997, Armstrong announced he would return to racing. His original team, Cofidis, had terminated his contract when it learned about his illness. After a long search, he was accepted by the United States Postal Service team.

In February 1998 in Spain, in his first pro race since being struck by cancer, Armstrong finished 14th. Two weeks later in France, conditions were horrendous, and Armstrong decided he had had enough of his grueling sport. He just wanted to go home.

Armstrong was ready to retire from racing when Kristin and his coach, Chris Carmichael, convinced him to keep pedaling.
Lance Armstrong
After Armstrong won his seventh consecutive Tour de France, he retired.
Training in the hills of Boone, N.C., Armstrong learned to love the bike again.

Returning to Europe, he won the Tour of Luxembourg in June 1998. Then he finished fourth in the Tour of Holland and Tour of Spain.

In 1999, he crashed in two races and completed several more with mediocre finishes. But in the Tour de France, Armstrong proved himself early, winning the first stage, an eight-kilometer time trial.

At Metz, Armstrong won another time trial and remained the leader of the pack. After 2,287 miles, Armstrong was the easy winner -- by seven minutes and 37 seconds. Not only did he become the first American to win the race since Greg LeMond gained his third victory in 1990, but his triumph was viewed as one for cancer survivors everywhere.

The 2000 Tour de France brought the USPS team new challenges. The 1997 Tour winner, Jan Ullrich, and the 1998 winner, Marco Pantani, who were both absent in 1999, were competing.

Armstrong responded impressively, taking the lead in the mountain stages. He won Stage 19 to widen his margin and went on to capture the race by 6:02.

In the 2001 Tour de France, Armstrong proved himself on the climb to Pla d'Adet. He gained a lead of 5:05 after the mountain stages and won the race for the third consecutive year.

He also received a clean bill of health from his doctors in 2001. Five years after his surgery, Armstrong was declared cancer free.

In the 2002 Tour de France, Armstrong's biggest challenger, Ullrich, wasn't competing as he was suspended for using the recreational drug Ecstasy. Domination again in the mountain stages put Armstrong on his way to his fourth victory.

In the 2003 race, Armstrong was not at his best and appeared vulnerable. However, his fortitude didn't leave him and he held on to win by 61 seconds, his smallest margin of victory, over Ullrich.

A year later, Armstrong was forced to defend himself - again - against claims he might have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Repeatedly pointing out he has never failed a drug test, Armstrong said the accusations only fueled his motivation.

Unlike the previous year, he was at his best when he captured his sixth straight Tour de France. With five solo stage wins and a team-trial victory with his U.S. Postal Service squad, Armstrong won by six minutes and 19 seconds. "You're awesome," President George Bush told his fellow Texan in a phone call.

In 2005, Armstrong had new teammates - he had switched to the Discovery Channel team - but the result was the same. In his final race, he went out a winner at 33, capturing his seventh Tour de France. He won by four minutes and 40 seconds after bicycling 2,233 miles across France and its mountains for three weeks, averaging 26.8 mph. And when he arrived in Paris, he received another congratulatory call from President Bush. The victory was "a testament not only to your athletic talent, but to your courage," the President of the U.S. told the king of the Tour de France.

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