I received a phone call yesterday from Bart Knaggs, Lance Armstrong’s long time agent, to tell me that there would be an announcement that Lance would be retiring today. We had a good chat about all the good things that Trek and Lance had done over the years. After I hung up the phone, I started to think about my best memories of Lance Armstrong and his long association with Trek. Here goes my top 5:
1. The start. I get asked quite often about how we signed Lance. It was a difficult decision at the time and when we signed him did we even know what we were doing? Answer: Luck not only applies to life and sports; it applies to business. One day Dick Moran, our marketing manager at the time, walked into my office and said that the US Postal Team was going to sponsor a new team and that Lance Armstrong was going to be on it.
"Who’s he?" I replied.
"He won the World Championship, was diagnosed with cancer, and is coming back. He’s pretty good."
"How are we going to pay for this?"
"We need some extra money."
And that was it. Less than one minute on a decision that changed the course of the company.
2. The first Tour De France. I was at home watching the Prologue, which I think was on CBS, and Lance won the race. The first time Trek had won a stage in the Tour de France. Lance is still in the race when it gets to the mountains and I get a phone call that he had an incredible ride on the Sestriere and it looked like he was going to win the freaking TOUR DE FRANCE. Dick said, "you need to come over here now." I had a few issues that I was dealing with so I called my Dad. "Dad, Lance might win the Tour De France, you need to get over there!" He was happy to go and it turned out to be one of his great memories. He was in Paris on the second-to-last day and he rode in the team car with Johan Bruyneel when Lance clinched it during the final time trial. Johan drove and had my Dad work the clock. The Big Guy (my Dad's nickname) always took pride in telling the story that when he came back to the hotel on the final day in Paris, the concierge gave him a smile and a big thumbs up.
3. Mountain bike racing. When we signed Lance, we weren’t sure how good he was going to be and it was a lot of money to us. Someone came up with the idea that we should have him ride two mountain bike events a year. After he won the Tour he was supposed to race in a NORBA National race in Vermont. I told Lance that after winning the yellow jersey, he didn't need to do the mountain bike thing. He said he wanted to do it and so I went out to watch him. Even though he had just finished the Tour and had not ridden a mountain bike in a while he got third place and was the crowd favorite. After a press conference we went out and had a few beers which, as Lance put it it, was in the "Team Handbook.” Over the years we would always joke about the “Team Handbook”. It was at this race that I saw the crowds just swarm around him and you could tell the difference between the bike people and the cancer survivors. If you don’t think that Lance Armstrong has changed lives, watch him at an event and you will see it in the eyes of the people. It is something that one needs to see to believe.
4. The Fall. It's the 2003 Tour De France and Lance is leading the race. But not by much. It is a mountain stage in the Pyrenees and I am in a conference room at Trek watching with 20 people when he gets tangled up with a musette bag and hits the pavement. As he got up and tried to get back on the bike everyone in the room was out of their seats. I will never forget this. I said “Sit down and watch the legend grow.” Sure enough he gets back on the bike and catches up to the pack and then just buries the group. What most people don’t know is that during the crash he cracked the rear chainstay on the bike and didn't notice. He kept the bike in the same gear for the rest of the climb. That bike is hanging in the lobby at Trek and I smile every time I walk by it.
5. The Comeback. I was in Rotterdam this past summer for the start of the Tour de France. Lance had finished third in the first year of his comeback and he thought he had a real chance to win in 2010. So did a lot of other people. I watched him warm up for the Prologue and he looked good. He went out and rode a great race and I thought watching him that day that he would win the race. Unfortunately, he suffered some punctures on the cobbles and could not get it back. No wining, no complaining, he rode out the rest of the Tour like a champion.
Lance has done a lot for Trek over the years and I think Trek has done a really good job of supplying him the best products in the world. On behalf of all the employees of Trek I just want to thank Lance for all the memories. The amount of pride that everyone from Trek felt every time Lance was riding a Trek was incredible.