1998-99 Season Recap
Tour de Lance
By all rights, Lance Armstrong shouldn't even be alive. In October, 1996, the world class cyclist was diagnosed with an aggressive form of testicular cancer. The disease had rapidly spread to his abdomen, lungs and his brain. He was given a 50 percent chance to live and even doctors admitted that was an optimistic view designed to instill more hope in him.
Through 1996 and 1997, the 27-year-old Austin, Texas native went through two operations and four extensive rounds of chemotherapy. And by the summer of 1997, he was miraculously declared cancer-free. But the miracle didn't stop there. Not even close.
In 1998 he returned to the cycling circuit, riding for the U.S. Postal Services, and in 1999 Armstrong showed his comeback was complete when he entered the sport's premier and most demanding event, one of the most grueling competitions in the World, the 2,287-mile, three week Tour de France.
Armstrong still wasn't satisfied. He was always considered an impressive "one-day" rider but never had quite what it took to put it all together over the grueling three week hall. Between 1993 and 1996, he competed in four Tour de France's, winning a total of two stages and never finishing higher than 36th overall (1995).
In 1999 he began his return to the Tour by winning the stage's Prologue, then added three more stage wins in the time trials of Metz and Futuroscope and the brutal mountain stage of Sestrieres.
And there he was on the final day of the three-week journey, flying down the Champs Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe, past thousands of adoring fans en route to his amazing victory. He became just the second American in history to win the Tour. Greg LeMond accomplished the feat three times, in 1986, 1989 and 1990. And now Armstrong is the second and he did so with a primarily American team, something LeMond can't even claim.
“Two years ago I didn't know if I'd be alive, let alone riding a bike in the Tour de France,” he later said. “Winning this race is a miracle.”
The Tour de France has seen its share of drug scandals over the past few years and the media simply couldn't fathom that the recovering cancer patient could possibly come out on top. Drug rumors persisted and the questions were endless. But through it all, Armstrong passed every test, kept the media at bay and the competition behind him. Some of the French press may have been somewhat bitter because the host country ended the race without a stage win for the first time since 1926 and for only the second time in history. For the most part, however, the fans were all behind Armstrong. He was too tough to root against.
His final time was 91 hours, 32 minutes and 16 seconds and he finished seven minutes, 37 seconds ahead of second place finisher Alex Zuelle of Switzerland.
“I hope it sends out a fantastic message to all survivors,” he said. “We can return to what we were before - and even better.”
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