I'm the first to admit, I have NEVER been in the same league as Lance Armstrong with my cycling. In fact, I wasn't ever even the best rider in any of the groups/clubs/teams to which I belonged. There was always someone better…or stronger…and smarter. Instead, I was like the tortoise in that famous fable. I was slow and steady…and occasionally I won a race.

Lance, however, dominated. They still tell Lance stories here in North Texas. By the time I got here, he'd already fought back from cancer and was about to win the Tour for the first time. But, I was told stories about how when he was still in high school he'd ride to the races from his house. Then, he'd do the race and beat everyone else easily. Then, he'd collect his winnings and ride home. All in, those could have been 100 to 120 mile days. He was beating guys ten years his senior. He was doing it after already having worn himself out. He was doing it easily. He was still in high school.

It's an amazing story…it's an amazing feat…and it very simply illustrates a) how great he is as a cyclist and b) how much disparity there is from his to my ability.

For the non cyclists, here's an analogy I have used to better explain the cycling world…and Lance. Lance is to cycling what Tiger is to golf. Yes, Tiger is prolly a bigger star…makes more money…had to overcome greater obstacles (although cancer IS a biggy). But, for his sport, Tiger is the pinnacle performer. Lance is the same for cycling. But, there is where the similarity ends. Without any slight to Tiger and golf/golfers, cycling is harder in my opinion. I know. I have done both sports. Cycling is harder.

I'm gonna get sidetracked on the analogy here for a moment to explain why I think cycling is harder. Golf is only moderately a physical game. Sure, the ability to swing the club the same way every time and hit the ball a long way is inherently a physical activity. But, it is nowhere near as tough and grueling as riding 120 miles in 90 degree heat. Just look at caloric burn for the two sports. And, while everyone that plays golf would describe it instead as a mental game…with the primary struggle being within…again, cycling wins. Pushing oneself to achieve the necessary fitness, maintaining the strategy and tactics for the various and multiple race scenarios, and keeping focused enough to avoid the many dangers of the sport all combine to make it tougher than all but the most prestigious and lucrative of golf tournaments. The stress of cycling is very high.

But, this isn't meant to deride golf. It's a very good sport…and very tough too.

So, back to the analogy…Amongst cyclists that race competitively there is a category system, similar to the handicap system of golf. Tiger and Lance as the best in their respective sports are at the top of the ranking systems. Next down would be all of the other professionals. (Professionals would be those trying and hopefully succeeding at making a living by playing their respective sport.) On the third step down the ladder for golf would be the club or teaching pro. These are the guys/gals in the country clubs who either stopped trying to make it professionally, or never tried in the first place, but who are still very good. In cycling that same role/level would be categorized as a Category One. Next step down in golf is the member of the country club who happens to be a pretty good golfer, maybe plays a couple of times a week, probably wins some money from his/her buddies every once in a while, and occasionally enters the club or city championship event. In cycling the person at that level would be categorized as a Two. In my best shape ever, I was a Two. And, the races I did as a Two were obviously extremely hard. Getting to that level and gaining the distinction of being a Two, however, was worth the difficulty. I was (briefly) in an elite group. I was racing against people that were A LOT better than I. (and I was in shape) And, on a percentage basis, it was a very small group. Just making up numbers here, there are prolly a couple thousand pro cyclists in the world…maybe 10 thousand cyclists at the One level…maybe 20 thousand at the Two level. At the other end of the racing spectrum, there are prolly a couple million beginning racers.

Just as the degree of ability and talent, though, between the club pro and Tiger is as wide as the Grand Canyon, the gap between Lance and my meager cycling talent is immense. When Lance said he was "on his bike, 6 hours a day", I believed it. And, I knew too that he was averaging 25 mph during that 7 hours…and prolly had his heartrate up near 200 bpm the whole time. There's no comparison.

"What Am I On?"

It's a great commercial.

Advertisements