Over the years, I've admired Lance's accomplishments... and I simply wrote it off as "Oh well, he's a genetic freak."
But my experiences over the past year have given me a new perspective on things, and I have a theory on why Lance has been so successful. Please bear with me while I put the parts together for you.
First off: I don't want to get into a doping argument. For the sake of this discussion let's assume that either everybody dopes or nobody dopes. Because that's actually the reality of it, so let's say that everyone is on a level playing field as far as doping goes. That means that something gave Lance a further advantage to win all those stages. And I think that I know what that advantage is, and I want to explore that possibility.
Let's flash back to set the table:
I'm an engineer, and I used to work with a guy (Jim) who was a retired Air Force Colonel who flew helicopters in Vietnam. He flew some of the most dangerous missions you could imagine... rescue missions where he had to hover stationary above the jungle while enemy soldiers took rifle shots at his chopper. Needless to say, those experiences changed his outlook on life... he rarely got upset or perturbed over most of the things that set the rest of us off.
Our engineering team was in the midst of a very contentious meeting once, and in the middle of the arguments we looked to Jim to ask his thoughts on the argument. He just looked at us and said, "These aren't real bullets." We all instantly knew what he meant, and it calmed the whole room as we realized that our issues weren't all that important.
Flash forward to this year:
My wife has always been a girlie-girl. You know the kind... a sissy who demanded anesthesia to remove a splinter from her finger. She hated any sort of discomfort or pain. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through surgery and painful radiation therapy. That experience changed her... it turned her into an iron woman when it comes to pain. Her doctors often marvel at how she stands up to even the most painful procedures.
A few days ago she was watching some highlights of past TdF stages with Lance footage. At one point I mentioned how impressive it was that Lance could withstand the suffering of those climbs.
She looked at me and said something interesting that I'll never forget: "That pain doesn't mean anything."
And I instantly understood. I know what she means. Cancer patients have endured pain that carries a deep and menacing threat. And that pain lives with them for every minute of every day of their recovery... the pain doesn't stop until it has burned into their psyche. That pain means that a disease is trying to kill you... and it changes you... it changed my wife from a sissy into a rock.
And I thought about Jim's words... my wife looks at our cycling induced pain and thinks, "Those aren't real bullets." That pain isn't trying to kill you. That pain will stop when you stop pedaling. Not a big deal in her book.
So maybe Lance sees pain the same way. Cycling pain is different for him because he's suffered on a different plane that you and I can't imagine. Does his mindset enable him to suffer on a different level than the rest of us because he knows what true suffering is?