This is one of those things that has stuck with me ever since I read it. It’s an account from a Colombian rider, Santiago Botero, in the Tour de France, about being overtaken by Lance Armstrong in a particularly tough mountain stage.
We all get so busy managing the day to day of our work, and the crises that come up. But the truth is, we need to find time for the long-term efforts , to think forward as to what initiatives we can start on now. It is tough to prioritise these when they won’t ease the present pain points, but they’re crucial to our development in the future.
It’s not just about the race, about that present moment. It’s about what you did to train, to prepare, to be ready for future challenges.
There I am all alone with my bike. I know of only two riders ahead of me as I near the end of the second climb on what most riders consider the third worst mountain stage in the Tour. I say ‘most riders’ because I do not fear mountains. After all, our country is nothing but mountains. I train year-round in the mountains. I am the national champion from a country that is nothing but mountains.
I trail only my teammate, Fernando Escartin, and a Swiss rider. Pantani, one of my rival climbers, and the Gringo Armstrong are in the Peleton about five minutes behind me. I am climbing on such a steep portion of the mountain that if I were to stop pedaling, I will fall backward. Even for a world class climber, this is a painful and slow process. I am in my upright position pedaling at a steady pace willing myself to finish this climb so I can conserve my energy for the final climb of the day.
The Kelme team leader radios to me that the Gringo has left the Peleton by himself and that they can no longer see him. I recall thinking “the Gringo cannot catch me by himself.”
A short while later, I hear the gears on another bicycle. Within seconds, the Gringo is next to me – riding in the seated position, smiling at me. He was only next to me for a few seconds and he said nothing – he only smiled and then proceeded up the mountain as if he were pedaling downhill.
For the next several minutes, I could only think of one thing – his smile. His smile told me everything. I kept thinking that surely he is in as much agony as me, perhaps he was standing and struggling up the mountain as I was and he only sat down to pass me and discourage me. He has to be playing games with me. Not possible.
The truth is that his smile said everything that his lips did not. His smile said to me, “I was training while you were sleeping, Santiago.” It also said, “I won this tour four months ago, while you were deciding what bike frame to use in the Tour. I trained harder than you did, Santiago. I don’t know if I am better than you, but I have outworked you and right now, you cannot do anything about it. Enjoy your ride, Santiago. See you in Paris.”
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Lance had this way of climbing mountains that was cruel to other competitors. I once saw him on another inhuman climb actually sit up and start stretching while pedaling. You should have seen the other bikers’ faces. That little bold gesture killed their spirit.
As an absolute Tour de France fanatic since my competition days 35 years ago, I know Lance was all about training, preparation, teammate selection, and *execution*. And I won’t believe he took drugs until the day he looks straight at a camera and says “Yes, I did it”.