July 21st, 2001 was for me the height of Lance Armstrong's athletic power. Some might scoff at that and point to the performance enhancing drugs that underpinned the Texan's successes, but as spectacle, this was it. This was his biking zenith.
Looking at arch rival Jan Ullrich for a solid 4 or 5 seconds, he practically calls him out before taking off up the road. On perhaps the most famous climb in cycling - Alpe D'Huez.
Ullrich a winner in 1997 and hailed at the time as the "future of the tour" cannot respond. He finishes a distant 1:59 behind and the 2001 Tour De France is effectively over.
This was for the me the rivalry of that generation and yes, its one forever tainted by performance enhancing products, but it's this moment and the aftermath of it's two protagonists that I think is worthy of a blog article.
One would go on and become a global sporting icon. The other would never fulfill that early promise, never finishing lower than 4th in the Tour de France, but never on the top step again.
One would launch a charity that raised million of dollars in the fight against cancer. Whilst the other was being charged for cocaine use. The sporting expectations of a nation too much for Ullrich to cope with. Both men would face infamous ends to their sporting careers.
In retirement both men faced their troubles. Armstrong's desperately trying to fend off multi-million dollar lawsuits, stripped of his tour titles and being forced to step down from his position as chairman of Livestrong, the charity he set up.
Jan Ullrich fell into a cycle of drink and drugs that ultimately saw him lose his marriage, break into a neighbours home and was admitted into a psychiatric hospital in 2018.
But it would appear that at the heart of that fierce burning rivalry was a friendship that went a lot deeper. In his darkest hour, Ullrich was visited by Armstrong.
“You know my story, three years ago I was very bad. You came to see me and I was on the same path as Marco Pantani, almost dead. And then I recovered and I have good friends, including you, who brought me back to life. Now I’m very happy”
“For a while I forgot what was good for me. All I remember is from 15 or 20 years ago. Then I forgot what was good for me. Cycling is good. Being with friends, love, my children, my family. I forgot all that, that was my problem
And I guess that's what a want to write about. We can all find ourselves in dark places, forget what is good for us. And at that point you need someone, a loved one, a good friend or in this case a ferocious rival to help you get out of those destructive thoughts and behaviours. Invariably their words mean more, because they've been to some dark places too. They can relate. They've come out the other side and because they have, you know that you can too.
Scottish Adventure Cycling has at it's heart a mission to look after each other and I think this is great example of this. Armstrong taking the time, his own life not without troubles, to reach out and help his old rival. And in the process giving us an update to "The Look" , one which has far more powerful message than that one 20 years ago.
In short, it doesn't matter if we are chasing that a Strava PR or sprinting for "The 30", we can take the time to help fix that puncture or to ask how someone's doing.
I've included the link to the Move Podcast where Jan Ullrich joins Lance Armstrong and they discuss their friendship and rivalry as well as the recently wrapped World Championships
I hope you enjoy it.