THE SCIENCE EXPERIMENT
"This individual was born on September 18, 1971. He engaged in competitive swimming at ages 1215 y and competitive running and triathlon racing at ages 1418 y. Thereafter, he competed in and trained primarily for bicycle road racing.... Before turning 22 years old in 1993, he became the youngest winner of the World Championships in Bicycle Road Racing, a one-day road race. At age 25 y, this individual was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Thereafter and during the period of October through December of 1996, he underwent surgeries to remove the involved testicle and then to remove cancerous brain tumors and he received chemotherapy... During the 3rd and 4th mo. following chemotherapy, he cycled approximately 5 d/wk for 25 h/d at moderate intensity. During the 5th and 6th mo., training intensity was increased.... He resumed international bicycle racing in 1998, and... went on to become the now six-time 'Grand-Champion' of the 'Tour de France' over years 1999, 2ooo, 2oo1, 2oo2, 2oo3 and 2oo4.... During the months leading up to each of his 'Tour de France' victories, he reduced body weight and body fat by 47 kg (i.e.; approximately 7%). Therefore, over the seven-year period, an improvement in muscular efficiency and reduced body fat contributed equally to a remarkable 18% improvement in his steadystate power per kg body weight when cycling at a given VO2... It appears that [even] in the detrained state, this individual's VO2max is in the range of the highest values that normal men can achieve with training."Dr. Edward F. Coyle, "Improved Muscular Efficiency Displayed as 'Tour de France' Champion Matures," Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2005
WE ALREADY KNEW Lance Armstrong was a unique physical specimen, a paragon of human self-propulsion. But a just-published paper by Edward Coylethe result of a seven-year study he conducted at the University of Texas's Human Performance Laboratory, in Austinproves that Armstrong is, as they say, off the charts. Looking for a solid measurement of what it takes to win the world's toughest bike race? You can't do much better than an 18 percent improvement in efficiency from a man who can kick your ass even when he's out of shape. Power per kilogram of body weight may be a clinical measurement, but power plus heart, technology, aggression, and superior tactics is what Lance used to win an unprecedented six Tours de France. Armstrong will bring the same mix to the starting line on July 2, when, in what will be his final professional bike race, he begins his drive to win a seventh.
Earlier this year, as Armstrong commenced training for the race, my Outside colleague John Bradley and I caught up with him for two remarkable conversations. The first took place in February on Armstrong's ranch, 30 minutes west of Austin, as his serious training was just getting under way and his personal calculations about his fitness level were still in flux.
Outside: You're getting a late start this year. How's the schedule?
Armstrong: You know, I don't know where I am. I'll find out in a week, when I go to Europe. But I'm not very good.
But you've got the data on your training.
Yeah, that's why I say I'm not very good. Because it doesn't lie. It's funny, for about a week my SRM [a device that measures a cyclist's pedaling power in watts] wasn't calibrated right. I was like, God, I'mdamn, I'm crankin', I'm doin' good. And then I realized: I don't know. And so I went and looked at it and realized it wasn't set up right, and then I recalibrated it, and the truth hurts. Literally. So much of it is power to weight, so I've got to increase the power and lower the weight and, you know, you can lower the weight anywhere, but you can't increase the power just anywhere. To increase the power, you have to have great training.
The interview was held on the patio of Lance's ranch house, which is perched high on a spot overlooking the West Texas Hill Country as it rolls away to infinity. As we spoke, I was thinking about the Ed Ruscha canvas hung in the living room inside. More sign than painting, it reads, in bold white capital letters set against a stormy blue background, SAFE AND EFFECTIVE MEDICINE.
The painting works, dizzyingly, on all the levels that Armstrong himself works. It can be read as a sincere acknowledgment of the medical intervention that saved his life, the surgery and the drugs and the rehab that brought him back for an exquisitely leaner, more potent second chance. Or as a reflection of the gratitude, passion, and empathy he brings to his work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation on behalf of cancer survivors.
The painting, one speculates, is also a defiant example of the withering aggression Armstrong aims toward his detractors and tormentors, the conspiracy theorists who say there has to be something more to his amazing achievements than healing, training, natural ability, calibrated teamwork, and angry, focused, uncompromising prowess. Namely, performance-enhancing drugs.