2000-01 Season Recap
Thrice as Nice
Is there anything left for this man to do? Simply put, no conversation about the most amazing accomplishments in sports history is complete without a discussion of Lance Armstrong.
In July 2001, the 29-year-old Texan became the first American ever to win three consecutive Tours de France. He joined fellow legend Greg LeMond as the only two American cyclists with three Tour wins. Only Spain's Miguel Indurain (5), France's Jacques Anquetil and Belgium's Eddy Merckx (4) have won more in succession.
By all rights, 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, Armstrong went through two operations and four extensive rounds of chemotherapy. And by the summer of 1997, he was miraculously declared cancer-free.
He completed his comeback and shocked the world in 1999 with his first Tour win. As impressive as his seven-plus-minute-victory was, many considered it a fluke, since Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich and many other top contenders were either injured or scared off by cycling's ubiquitous drug scandal.
In 2000, however, there could be no excuses. Racing's elite were back in the pack…and behind Armstrong. He soared to a six-minute victory over his main rival Ullrich.
In 2001, he proved his efficiency at the mental aspect of the sport, as well as the physical. His friend and U.S. Postal Service teammate Kevin Livingston had defected to Ullrich's Deutche Telekom team earlier in the season. In the early stages of the 2001 Tour, it seemed the defection may have taken its toll.
After eight stages, Armstrong found himself 36 minutes behind the race leader. Remarkably, however, he was still considered the race favorite. Thirty-six minutes would certainly seem like a lot of time to make up, but Armstrong's forte, mountain racing, was on tap.
Through the first 120 miles of the 10th stage, Armstrong appeared to be completely out of steam. He was trailing a pack led by Ullrich and seemed to be breathing and grimacing much more than usual. As the pack reached the famed Alpe d'Huez, Armstrong revealed his ploy. The grimacing was all for show. He put on a burst up the mountain, and on his way past Ullrich, stood in his pedals, turned around and gave his friendly rival an elongated stare.
From that moment on, the race was his. He won the stage handily and trailed the leaders by 20 minutes. He steadily and methodically closed the gap through the next two stages and by the end of the 13th stage, he'd won the right to wear the yellow jersey as the race's leader.
He would wear the jersey for the final seven stages of the race. And after his all-too-familiar cruise down the Champs Elysees in Paris, Armstrong had captured his third straight Tour. Ullrich was runner-up for the second consecutive year, this time coming in six minutes, 44 seconds behind.