Lance Armstrong has known the highest highs and the lowest lows that an athlete can experience. Armstrong was raised by a single mother after his father left them when he was a small child. He started out in sports as a swimmer, and then became a top junior triathlete in the US, but turned to cycling exclusively because triathlon was not an Olympic sport in the 1980s. Armstrong made the 1992 US Olympic team, and was considered one of the favorites in the road race, but missed a late break, and finished only 14th. Shortly after Barcelona, Armstrong turned professional. He had some success early on, winning the 1993 World Championship road race, but was not a factor for general classification in the grand tours because of his lack of climbing ability, partly because he was heavier than most top climbers. From 1993-96 he raced the Tour de France four times, winning two stages, but finishing the race only once, that in 1995 when he placed 36th. After the 1996 season, where he had not raced well at the Olympics or the Tour, he sought treatment for a medical condition, which turned out to be testicular cancer.
Armstrong's testicular cancer was very advanced when it was found, and had spread widely throughout his body. He underwent chemotherapy, as well as brain surgery to decompress several metastatic lesions. His survival was in doubt, and he was given no chance to return to the professional peloton. But he returned to racing in the 1998 season, initially with very poor results, and he considered quitting the sport. However, he was encouraged by a late-season fourth-place finish at the Vuelta à España. He increased his training after that race, and focused his efforts on the Tour.
But when he entered the 1999 Tour de France for the US Postal team, he was not favored, although he had won the Dauphiné-Libéré earlier in the year. At the Tour he took the lead after the stage eight time trial, however, the next day was a mountain stage to Sestrières, and it was thought he would wear the yellow jersey for but a single day. But the near the top of climb, Armstrong was with the leaders Alex Zülle and Richard Virenque, when he stood on his pedals and dropped them dramatically on the way to the summit. He kept the yellow jersey and would wear it all the way to Paris for his seeming first victory in the Tour de France.
Over the next few years Armstrong became stronger and stronger and, continuing to focus mostly on the Tour, initially winning the race for seven consecutive years, though the victories would later be declared void. After the 2005 Tour, Armstrong retired, running twice in the New York City Marathon, and also ran the 2008 Boston Marathon. But he came back to competitive cycling in 2009 and rode the Tour again in 2009-10, placing third in 2009, but was back in the pack in 2010. He then announced another retirement from cycling.
After his cancer diagnosis, Armstrong started the Livestrong Foundation, which devotes its efforts to fund-raising for cancer research. He worked tirelessly on behalf of the foundation, and in the fight against cancer. His career was not without controversy, however, as he was accused numerous times of using drugs, including by several former teammates, but he never tested positive for a proscribed substance. His major one-day wins, prior to his doping revelations, included the 1993 World Championship road race and the 1996 Flèche Wallone. In shorter stage races, Armstrong also won the 2001 Tour de Suisse, the 2004 Tour of Georgia, Dauphiné Libéré in 1999 and 2002-03, and the Midi-Libre in 2002.
In 2013 Armstrong admitted that he had systematically doped throughout his professional career, after revelations by several of his former teammates. He was sanctioned by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and his Tour victories were removed, along with his Olympic results in 1996 and 2000, and his other titles. His admissions were done on national television in the United States and he went from one of the nation’s top sporting heroes to a reviled, ridiculed, and embarrassed ex-athlete. It was revealed, and he admitted, that he had not only systematically doped, but lied about it frequently, and in addition, berated, bullied, and belittled his accusers, also suing several of them in court. He won most of those suits at first, but several of the defendants have since returned counter-suits, seeking to redeem their damages, and inflict further financial penalties on Armstrong.
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