Part I:

The Part Whereupon I Judge Lance (Wrong Thing To Do)

Ilg only has one Direct Experience with Lance Armstrong. It wasn’t much of a moment…yet it was profound.  If my personal encounter with Lance was like the one I’m about to describe below?  Then,  love him, tolerate him, or otherwise,  you gotta admit;  this King of the TDF (Tour de France)  has certainly entertained a heccuva Karmic incarnation affecting millions – perhaps billions – of people, many of them Cancer warriors and warrioress’s.   And that is enough to make this feeble yogi bow at the (maybe not so) Lotus Feet of Lance.

Oh?  My moment with Lance? Uh…well, although it is a bit of a stretch to say that i ‘raced against Lance’ tis true.  I did.   And i…like many others,  got my ass spanked.   At the time,  i did not even KNOW i was racing against The King of the TDF, because, back then?   Lance was not the King of anything…yet.   He was just a super talented triathlete from Texas making the transition into road cycling and he showed up – unknown – to a race in New Mexico that I was in with my regional Albuquerque Motorola squad (ironic, since years later, he became/made the Team Motorola professional squad).

We were racing that day, this must have been early nineties I reckon, in the Jemez Mountains…an exquisitely sculpted, volcanically created range north of Albuquerque southwest of Santa Fe that is to me like a BuddhaRealm filled with tall, ever wafting conifers, stunning streams, mysterious Anasazi ruins, hidden natural hot springs, the nation’s largest caldera, and i might add; fantastic rock climbing not to mention my precious Jemez Zen Center where I’ve spent many silent days studying within, wondering without.   The road race course that day offered a hilly profile, lots of climbing, all at 7,000’+ altitude.  Hot.  Around 65-70 miles.  An out and back course.

So, the gun went off and we all started out like most road races start out;  slowly…you know,  it’s a long, hot race so why not pace ourselves a bit, right?  You know,  let the less seasoned members of our various teams put their noses out into the wind and allow us podium contenders for the podium to warm up our legs, right?   Ssensible, right?

Wrong…at least on this day.

Coach Ilg against Lance Armstrong on a bike?   No chance,  “He kicked my ass.   And I ain’t the only one!” – Coach Steve Ilg.
photo:  Coach Ilg, Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, 2011, podium finish.  Ilg archives.

See,  when the gun went off,  a certain fellow – unknown to our region – just took off like a freakin’ cannonball.  He took off as if the Finish Line was 70-meters – not 70-miles – away.  We – being well-seasoned roadies –  looked among each other before chuckling and snickering things that basically boiled down to, “HA!  Look at that idiot!” and, “Oh, just let him go…he’ll come back.”    When he took off like that?  I recall indelibly not only the ferocity of his attack upon our ENTIRE peleton,  but also the way he immediately hunkered into a low, energy-saving, aerodynamic posture on his bike.  It looked and spiritually felt to me that this kid – whoever he was – was in this thing to sell his whole self.  As a break-away guy myself,   i flash-thought in the way racers do; “Jump on his wheel!” I didn’t.  I instead bowed to the peer pressure of the peleton and played the safe card.  Of course, nowdays (hindsight is 20/20, right?)  if I did act on that intuitive impulse and IF I could have just simply held onto his wheel?   I could have a MUCH BETTER Lance Armstrong story than the one I hope you continue reading below.

Here, I’ll spoil the story straight up: The Kid never came back.

In fact,  since it was an out-and-back course, we were all placing bets on whether he could even reach the turn-around point before our much more mature and sensible pacing and collective strength of over 60 racers caught up with this kid’s foolish bravado to strike out alone, into the wind, without a teammate or even another rider to help him.   I also recall he didn’t even have a fancy-smancy lycra Team Kit like we so proudly wore over our well-shaven skin.   We were not concerned, so pedalled onward and upward into the day’s racing among the scintillating streams and pine-coated mountains.

If I recall correctly (which is always questionable…you know, the eighties combined with professional high-altitude mountaineering took a LOT out of my few naturally occurring brain cells),  we were still pedaling moderately several miles before the turn-around point which – for us – meant the point where we would ‘really begin racing.’   Oh sure, we chatted about the ‘the Kid’ up front but weren’t concerned.   I guess someone in the peleton did know about the Kid, “He’s some triathlete  guy from Texas,” was all I remember hearing.   We were all comy-certain that we would soon swallow him up any moment for the renown New Mexican winds that day were not soft. Surely, the Kid must be getting tired…

Part II:

I’m NOT getting tired and quit calling me Shirley!

I guess that’s when my personal Lance m(om)ent came...still several miles from the turn-around point,  our peleton took a huge collective gasp for there, bombing down the OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD WAS ‘THE KID’!…still hunkered down low,  pedaling a demonic cadence push a huge gear.   He not so much as glanced at us…his own mission secured.  We  were NOT a part of the Kid’s mission.

Under normal ‘roadie circumstances’ we’d all just organize into an efficient single paceline to immediately and efficiently increase our average speed.  Eventually, the stronger riders would pressure the less strong off the back until a chase group of say 12 riders would work methodically, intelligently to bridge back up to this young torpedo.   That’s just the way we do it.  We reel in solo or small breakaways like this every weekend.

This particular weekend? We didn’t do that, cuz that solo breakaway up the road was none other than a very young Lance Armstrong.

Instead of our normal, sane, steadfast organization to catch the breakaway up the road?    Your’s Truly and every other rider just went ballistic into full-on attack mode…HOW DARE HE!    HE IS NOT STRONGER THAN ME!..and other such stupid testosterone-laced imbecilic thoughts that predictably come from male athletes whose egoic feathers have been thusly ruffled by another male show of strength.   It’s all so…well,  stupid.

We never caught Lance. Not one of us.

I remember working incredibly hard to get myself into a 5-man chase group,  probably the second or third chase group determined to show this young Kid a thing or two about ‘intelligent road racing.’    That never happened.

Never even saw him at the Finish area.

Or the Awards Ceremony.

Ilg guesses that Kid?  He was on a special mission, much Higher Mission than all of us in that now seemingly flimsy New Mexican peleton.

Sure,  I only wish I could share a mountain bike ride into one of my yoga classes with Lance and then share a beer with him at Durango Brewery.

Cuz, you know what? No matter what?  That kid has affected a lot of lives.

Om Mani Padme Hung, Sir Lance.

All Karma Is God.

head bowed,

el coache

3 Responses to “My Personal Encounter with Lance; Feel What You Want About Him…Perhaps? That’s His Teaching?”

  1. Kevin Burnett says:

    That’s the way it was. I was a couple years removed from racing and remember some members of my former team going to the nationals in Utah. Lance was there and becoming known, but still unknown to many. When he attacked in the road race my buddy asked who the fat kid was and what did he think he was doing? Needless to say the fat kid won.

    Then he led his teammate Jonas Carney out for the crit and had to put on the brakes to keep from winning that one too.

    Lance definitely had that perfect combination of genetics and a burning desire to show the world.

  2. coach says:

    Precious KB Warrior Brother,
    precisely and preciously said!
    see, like bodybuilding, like baseball, like tennis, like every other sport that does NOT get policed for dopers as does the noble sport of cycling? take the drugs away? and guess what?
    yup; the guys/girls who are standing on the podium will more than likely be the same…oh sure their muscles may not bulge as big, their home runs may not be as stratospheric, their first serve may not be so triple digit common, and in cycling, the number of miles they raced each day might be as great…yet, you know what? it’ll be just as dramatic, just as engaging, and…here is the kicker: even MORE inspiring knowing that it was their genuine spirit – instead of chemical dependency – that enabled them to hold that trophy or stand on that podium…

    never drugged ilg

  3. Kevin Burnett says:

    A good metaphore for life I suppose. No one wants to be the first to lay down their arms so the cycle just repeats itself with each new generation rationalizing thier actions because someone else did it first or is doing it now.

    High on LIFE Kevin

Leave a Reply