Can Armstrong Be Stopped
By Jack R. Noel
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Copyright Jack R. Noel 2001
Can Armstrong Be Stopped?
That was the question posed by some sports writer covering the Tour de
France last month. Having followed Lance Armstrong's amazing career
since he won the 1999 Tour, this question naturally caused me to
ponder. Some questions have multiple answers, and this seemed to be one
of those. But let's get the root question out of the way first.
Heh-heh, of course he can be stopped. If the Tour were held in America,
a rifle bullet would probably do the trick. What's that NRA motto? Oh
yeah, "A nation of riflemen." ( But not a nation of deep thinkers,
Seriously, I think it was Tour rider Johnny Vaughters (a Brit) who said
that "He won't lose it (the T de F) unless he crashes, gets a sore
throat (?) or a flat tyre."
So according to Vaughters, the first peril for Armstrong is crashing,
but presumably not burning, since we cyclists use little petrol in our
riding. Now if they raced the Tour in SUVs, I bet we'd see some fiery
crashes. But then they'd have to rename the race. I'd say something
like, "Grand Prix de Idiots," sounds about right.
But what was that about a sore throat? Did Vaughters think biological
warfare would break out? That threat was averted, since they decided
not to drop Armstrong and 160 other riders from the Tour. The main
group, or Peleton, had fallen so far behind the leaders of the first
mountain stage that rules made it possible they could have been
disqualified. Tour officials made the determination that conditions (it
was raining, they were zinging down twisting mountain roads at a
zillion kilometers per hour) permitted the lagging riders to remain. If
they had been dropped, the home countries of 7 major teams would have
declared war on France. It would have been World War I all over again,
and mustard gas has plenty of potential to induce sore throats. But
Vaughters was taking every possibility into account.
That left the hazard of a flat tire to stop Lance. Getting a flat or
"flatting" as we say, is a very common occurrence for cyclists. I would
place it first, not last, in the list of hazards confronting America's
greatest cyclist. (A note: The Brits would say, "flatting a tyre" but
they are a nation of wordy [prolix] people. Also, they have an
eccentric way with the spelling and pronunciation of ordinary words.
This may explain why no Brits have done well in the T de F for a few
decades. They're too busy talking, or trying to, during those high
altitude climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees. "I say, wheeze, too bad that
rotter Armstrong, wheeze, hasn't flatted his tyre, wheeze, by now,
wheeze, I shall have to attack..wheeze!!")
And, I can certainly vouch for all of that -- I've lots of experience
with flat tyres and the vagaries of spelling and pronunciation. I almost
had a flat yesterday; my rear tyre had a cut right to the cords. I had
to replace that tyre, of course. So I went down to the bike shop as
soon as I could. I went right to the tyre racks in back and began
looking for the exact kind I've favored for a few years now, the
Continental Sport 1000. When a Repair Guy saw me craning my neck to
look up at the Conties (what thyre called) whych were actually about 18
feet from the floor (let's see, that's how high in kilometers?), he
asked, "What are you looking for?"
I replied, "A tyre."
He asked, "A what?"
I said, "A tyre, I have to replace my rear tyre, it's got a cut right to
He asked, "A rear what?"
I asked, "Have you been watching the Tour de France?"
He said, "Oh yeah, man, those guys are amazing, eh?"
I said, "Have you noticed the tyres they're using on all those Treks,
Looks and Lemonds?"
He said, "Yeah, those real narrow skins, they run those at about 160
I said, "You mean 1,100 Kilopascals, don't you?"
He said, "I guess so. But Pascal quit last week."
I said, "Well, I don't want that kind of tyre, I want a Conti Sport
1000. I heard that even Lance Armstrong could be stopped by a flat
He said, "Yeah,we got a bunch of them right up there," pointing at the
top rack, 53.782384 kilometers above.
He moved closer and pulled a step ladder from hiding. Bracing the ladder
for his ascent he asked, "What size?"
He'd already slung a set of air tanks over his back and donned the the
oxygen mask by the time I said,"I don't remember."
To help, I added, "I've got this Ross Grand Tour, it takes the most
common size tyre for that kind of bike."
He climbed quite a way up before he asking, "Would that be a 23, or a
I replied, "Are you sure? That sounds too small."
He was already halfway up then, his outline began to take on a bright
purplish halo from unscreened ultraviolet. Then, sounding like a jet
fighter pilot behind his mask, he called back, "Maybe you need a 27 x
I asked, "What? You mean a 32 x 630? I think that's right."
He stopped climbing, at least I think so, he'd become a tiny dot high
above -- backed by the blackness of space. Even so, I thought I sensed
annoyance in his gaze. Now there was also a time lag between the time
he spoke and the time I heard him over the distance, I judged it to be
around 22.3 seconds. Finally, I heard him say, "What size again?"
Now I knew he was annoyed, but assumed it was because he wasn't wearing
a pressure suit, his blood was probably beginning to boil and that
makes anyone cranky. I have a very good visual memory, I'd distinctly
flashed on "32 x 630" on the image of a tyre sidewall. So I loudly
repeated, "Thirty-two by six-thirty... millimeters."
After another lag I heard, "...What?" Then, "You want thirty-two by
six-thirty? Hell, man, I don't even have one, now. I forgot to order
them when I placed our supply order with Continental."
I saw no point in replying to that, so I just stood looking up as he
descended to Base Camp. Soon he was joined by his hardy, loyal sherpas
-- who'd apparently climbed by another route to bring him supplies. I
had time to wonder if the supplies the sherpas carried included a
firearm and ammunition. But I decided it was safe to wait because I
doubted the sherpas carried more than the bare essentials to that
altitude. There're limits to hardiness... and loyalty, even among
So when he finally landed, I was feeling sorry for all the bother I'd
put him through. I said, "I still need a tyre." I thought a sale might
Through trembling blue lips he said, "A what?"
"One like that," I said, pointing to tyres in a rack which stood at
about chest height and within his easy reach.
"Got plenty of those, and in a size you can use, too," he said. He
reached and pulled out two tyres from the lowest rack. One had
substantial tread while the other was nearly bald, save for a few
crudely indented "stipes."
I took both tyres from him to examine them and check the prices on their
labels. Both brand labels identified them as being made by Asian
aborigines with the assistance of native oran-u-tans in rain forest
slave shops near Singapore. And, they were made from the handy,
plentiful "gum rubber" and prime-grade chicle which have made that
region famous, too. And both were priced at $9.99 -- American dollars.
No fuss with exchange rates!
I asked, "Which is faster?"
He said, "The one with hardly any tread, but it won't last as long."
"I'm a member of Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, we all want to go
faster whether we actually can or not," I said, "So I'll take it."
No longer cyanotic, the Repair Guy let me take the tyre to the counter
at the front. Once a clerk arrived, I handed over the tyre for scanning
and pulled out my wallet. While the clerk scanned the label, I held out
my AABTS member's card and asked, "Do you still give discounts for AABTS
My question involved no metric conversions or English-English to
American-English translations, which is probably why the clerk
responded, "Sure do!" I handed over $8.54 and he rang up the sale.
I arrived home and soon had my road bike turned bottom-bracket-up on the
living room carpet. I turned on the TV to listen to national news while
I removed the damaged rear tyre and put the new, faster one on the rim.
I paused, moved by the thought that my bike, turned upside down,
reminded me of a dog wanting to have it's belly scratched. That's when I
heard the well-known news anchor's voice announcing the lead story,
"Hearthstone / Runestone Tire Company is fighting the government over
having to recall 40 million of it's Forest-Ripper tires, made for SUVs."
Part of the story dealt with the hitech tire making process and the
retail cost of each heavy-cleated rubberoid behemoth tire. Each SUV tire
costs the equivalent of my monthly rent. They showed clips of the
testing done on them; a tire spun at blurring speed on a heavy steel
spindle and suddenly, it destructed, hurling dog-sized chunks of rubber
off like blackened shell fragments and causing the massive test machine
They also showed a broken and sinking cargo ship, spilling it's entire
load of eight SUV tires into the waves -- where they wiped out an
entire pod of rare, 100 foot long, blue whales.
This caused me to think of those small but wiry and industrious jungle
people, with their amiable, orange-haired simian assistants, deftly
working plentiful gum rubber and grade AAA chicle into the gossamer
carcass of a bike tyre on a bamboo mandrel. They work, I think, for
about 3 yim-yams per day in salary -- or the equivalent in coconut
husks. Then I thought of the great steel ships, loaded with 100,000,000
of these tyres, delivering them to our foam-rimmed shores. From point
of importation, they're wafted safely across mountain and valley, across
fruited plains, to our local bike shops where even such a poor man as I
can come in and say, "I want to buy a tyre."
Shortly, I was outside, mounted on my bike and road testing the new
tyre. As I rode through evening-slanted shafts of sunlight, I thought,
"Ya know, I don't remember ever hearing of a bicycle tyre recall."
So, yeah, Lance could be stopped. But he'll never lose.