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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.

My first reaction to Lance Armstrong announcing his comeback several months ago was a big negative. After his seven historic Tour de France victories, I wasn't the only one who firmly believed he could continue to treat the Alps like little bumps in the road, if he continued at that time, and win ten straight. Make it an even dozen, which would have made him older than he is today. But to take three years off, despite training for marathon runs, seemed along time away from the elite level of his sport. Well, now that he's ridden an Australian event and last week's Tour of California, I've changed my tune. Lance Armstrong has earned the right to do anything he wants on a bicycle.

Since he was a teenager, Lance has been criticized for his arrogance, his aloof confidence. I've felt that cool breeze any number of times, sitting on the other side of a microphone from him. But it's precisely that command of his sense of self that makes this comeback of his beyond reproach. Boxers and football players and tennis players who have retired and unretired seem to have been desperate for the money or the spotlight, or both. Lance wants to beam focus on his worldwide push for cancer research and cancer cures. If he rides for a teammate for the first time in his life, his ego is not bruised. His ego is much too healthy for that. If he doesn't win the Tour de France this year, do we think he's going to crumble in a heap of insecurities? Hardly. He knows just how dominant he was and he could care less what the rest of us might conjecture to be his diminishing skills. Actually, it's kind of refreshing to see him affable with his teammates, easygoing in the press conferences, and still a poetic silhouette as he cranks up a steep climb.

Cancer has book-ended his legendary athletic career. Before he won those seven Tours in France, his multiple cancers called for a zero chance of survival. Zero. His fight, his victory, and his subsequent unlikely dominance of a physically demanding sport, has inspired millions around the world. Now, on the other side of his stellar performances, he is once again defined by cancer. The very fact that he at least outwardly doesn't seem to care if he wins these races or not, that all he cares about is that people hear his cancer plea and join him to fund-raise in that cause, earns him this retirement, free and clear.

I said months ago that if he finished somewhere in the pack, just an average guy in the peleton, he would be naïve to think he could still draw attention, the attention he's seeking for his cancer platform. I was wrong. We're going to follow him Down Under, down the coast of California, and again up the Alps. The man may indeed be arrogant but his legitimacy, on and off the bike, is not to be questioned.

By the way, I can't for the life of me understand why the great women cyclists get such short shrift. Fellow feminists, don't hate me, but I can sometimes understand why women's pro basketball doesn't draw well. If you watched the NBA slam dunk contest last week, you know what a thrill it is to witness mere mortals fly from the free-throw line, defying gravity all the way to the basket. The women's game seems so tame, so unathletic, in direct comparison. But cycling? Why is there no women's version of the Tour de France? Endurance is where we women shine. And for the lay public audience, you can't tell a guy is climbing a mountain faster than a woman. Reaching the summit is just as impressive. When a women's peleton glides through a field of sunflowers, the image is every bit Monetish as the men's. We don't know any of the elite women's cyclists names. We don't know their stories. We aren't aware of their races. I don't get it.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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