Why Iowa is a vital state
He didn't bring "the sexiest man alive."
He didn't bring Robin Williams, Oprah or any of the other celebrity "ride alongs" that had been rumored.
What he did bring was time for the young people and a tireless campaign against cancer.
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong spent about 45 minutes with approximately 1,200 captivated young people, all under the age of 21 at the Clay County Regional Events Center Sunday night. It is one of two special events Armstrong is taking part in along the RAGBRAI® route.
After dipping his tires in the water of Rock Rapids, Armstrong left the starting point at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, arriving in Spencer four hours later. Although he rode at a leisurely pace, he was quick to point out, "Nobody passed us," drawing laughs from his fans.
"It was miserable fighting the wind all day. I'm still dead," he added, "I don't know if I can start tomorrow."
Armstrong, who is riding in his second straight RAGBRAI with team Livestrong, part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, fielded a wide variety of questions from his youthful audience including questions about his many years of competitive bike racing, his personal battle and ongoing efforts to fight cancer, and his relationship with Sheryl Crow and Matthew McConaughey.
He answered them all, with a smile.
"No. How else can you answer that question," he said with a laugh when asked if he were still dating the singer.
As far as his friendship with McConaughey, "We're both Texans," he explained, calling him an "honest" guy, a rarity in Hollywood Armstrong suggested.
"I've been riding a bicycle since I was little," Armstrong told his audience. "When I was about 12 or 13, I started riding seriously. When I was 15, I started professional triathlons and then when I turned 20, I started cycling professionally."
Armstrong shared that his mother was just 17 when he was born, and she raised him with little money and no material things. He suggested they grew up together, but said that he wouldn't change a thing because it's part of what made him who he is today.
For Armstrong, it's the freedom of cycling that has always appealed to him. "When a kid learns to ride a bike for the first time, that's really the first time that he can get away from the house. They feel like they're free. In a weird way, I still get that feeling now."
One of his audience asked if he had ever wanted to quit?
He shared his initial response when he returned to cycling in 1998, the first time back since his battle with testicular cancer.
"It wasn't what I thought it would be. I didn't start winning...I quit. Then I decided to give it one more chance. I didn't put any pressure on myself to win, I just wanted to finish each race. I won the first. The I won the second.
"In 1999 I won my first Tour de France.'
Armstrong retired in 2005 after a seventh consecutive Tour de France win. He has spent his post-cycling career raising funds through his foundation for cancer research and survivorship programs - all seven Tour de France titles came after Armstrong recovered from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.
Armstrong explained that the cyclists travel at an average speed of 25 MPH on the tour, covering 2,500 miles in approximately 100 hours.
Still Armstrong calls his running the New York City Marathon in 2006 the hardest thing he's ever done. "I didn't train for it. Nothing prepares you for the pounding of running. After 20 miles I wanted to quit."
Lauren Mireles, a communications representative for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, shed some insight regarding the seven-time Tour de France winner's visit to Spencer during RAGBRAI ®.
"Lance enjoys sharing lessons he learned about cycling with youth," Lauren Mireles, a communications representative for the Lance Armstrong Foundation said. "He feels that it is important to remind them that cycling is not just about how fast you can ride or how far you can go, but also contains important life lessons such as working as part of team, keeping your body healthy and staying physically fit."
Mireles said Armstrong's participation in RAGBRAI is focused on his goal to raise awareness about the needs of people living with cancer and to challenge Iowa's communities to join him in an effort to make cancer a national priority.
"RAGBRAI has a lot of character. You can't compare this bike ride. This is truly a unique experience. It's one of a kind...People just come to ride," said Armstrong of RAGBRAI. "But Iowa is also a very important state."
He noted that it's not a coincidence that all of the presidential candidates are coming here right now.
"I want cancer to be one of the questions - one of the issues."
Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer at 25. He was asked about his thoughts at that time. "You have to consider that you might not make it. I didn't think that often. Most of the moments were, 'I'm not dying. I'm going to go on and live a normal life.'"
Cancer, he said, "forced me to build a team around me."
The medical arena for cancer patients today is much better than it was at the time he was diagnosed, Armstrong finds. "The world is much better today for patients and loved ones. You have so much information at your finger tips."
He looks at the Tour de France wins as a tool for a bigger purpose. "Being able to share a bigger story, a bigger mission. Winning seven tours was the spring board."
Asked about his greatest hope, Armstrong didn't hesitate. "I hope to see the disease go away forever. I'm not sure how realistic that is. We as a society and as a culture are not investing into it as we should."
On Monday, the cross-state marathon ride passed through the area of Webb, Marathon, Albert City and Laurens on its way east.
Cedar Falls will host a special concert event on Wednesday, July 25 during its overnight stop which will also feature an appearance by Armstrong on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa.
The legendary rhythm and blues band Blues Traveler will headline the event. Proceeds from the event will go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation for its work in fighting cancer.
The 35th edition of RAGBRAI comes to a conclusion Saturday, July 28, in Bellevue.