In 1992 Texan Lance Armstrong took the leap into the ranks of professional racing cyclists. A year later he became world champion road racing cyclist in Oslo. With stage victories in the Tour de France, etc. he emerged in no time as one of the best racing cyclists of his generation. In the autumn of 1996 this success story came to an abrupt end: Armstrong had testicular cancer with metastases. This was a bombshell – certainly in the world of cosseted racing cyclists, and his team lost a charismatic figure.
As Armstrong put it: ‘My first reflex was: there goes my career. Later, when the seriousness of the disease sank in, I realized I’d be lucky if I was able to live a more or less normal life again. The doctors gave me a 50% of survival. The diagnosis was worrying to say the least: testicular cancer with metastases in the abdomen, lungs and brain.’ The cyclist underwent two operations, in which, among other things, his right testicle and a brain tumour were removed. This was followed by three months of chemotherapy and intensive medical care in Indianapolis:
For the first year not a day went by without my thinking about it, but since then the fear has begun to abate. I’m no longer just a cancer patient – I’ve become a racing cyclist again. I’ve got my ambition back. The will to win is back, although it’s not as all-consuming as it used to be. I get over it quicker when it doesn’t work out. Winning is no longer the most important thing in my life. I just enjoy each day as it comes. I kept cycling, even during that tough first year, purely for pleasure. When the doctors gave me the go-ahead, I decided to become a professional cyclist again. Eighteen months later I started my first race. Why? Because I love racing, because it’s my job. But I also did it for everyone with cancer. Everyone thinks that after an illness like that you can never be the same again. I wanted to prove the opposite by winning races again. I’m gradually getting back to my old level. In fact, I’ve got even stronger.
Armstrong writes the way he cycles: straight down the line, always fighting openly and energetically. He’s not the kind of man who hides. Even just after he had heard the bad news he did not avoid contact with the media. He fought the battle in the open. The Texan’s openness won the respect of friends and enemies alike, in his team and elsewhere. And at a stroke testicular cancer became a topic in sports reporting and Armstrong became a representative of cancer patients.
His informal ambassadorship soon became official. In December 1996 he set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation, with the aim of fighting all forms of urological cancer by increasing awareness, education and research. Money is collected in the first place through all kinds of cycling events, the largest of which takes place each year at the end of May in his home town of Austin and is christened Ride for the Roses.