The participation of America's Lance Armstrong in this year's Tour de Suisse marks a major coup for the organisers. Having overcome testicular cancer to win the last two Tour de France, the 29-year-old Texan is one of the biggest names in the sport.This content was published on June 18, 2001 - 10:30
Getting Armstrong's name on the starting list was no easy matter, given the immense interest that surrounds the American star. In recent years, the US Postal team rider has preferred to compete in the Dauphiné Libéré as his final preparation for the Tour de France.
As a good friend of Armstrong, Tour de Suisse sporting director Tony Rominger has been instrumental in the American's change of plans. The inclusion in the Swiss race of a time trial stage from Sion to Crans-Montana also helped, with Armstrong keen to test his form against the clock.
Although Armstrong's involvement should massively boost the profile of this year's Tour de Suisse, the American is not expected to be chasing an overall victory, since his priorities clearly lie with July's Tour de France.
It was his back-to-back wins in the mother of all cycling races that assured Armstrong's reputation as one of today's greatest athletes. But for millions of people around the world it was his battle against cancer that earned the ultimate respect.
The Texan was diagnosed with the disease in October 1996 after falling off his bike in excruciating pain. Subsequent tests revealed that advanced testicular cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain.
Armstrong opted for the most aggressive form of chemotherapy available, since his chances for survival were estimated at just 50/50. Remarkably the treatment worked sufficiently for Armstrong to resume training within five months of the diagnosis.
Describing the illness as "a special wake-up call", the cyclist became actively involved in the fight against cancer, setting up the Lance Armstrong Foundation to promote awareness and early detection.
"I used to ride my bike to make a living," Armstrong has since said. "Now I just want to live so that I can ride."
Despite that new philosophy, the most amazing thing about Lance Armstrong is that he is now not only back on his bike, but actually cycling stronger than at any time before his fight with cancer.
Just two years after starting his comeback, Armstrong won the 1999 Tour de France.
There were lingering suggestions that his win had been a fluke, coming in a year when Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani were both absent from the Tour. But the 2000 Tour silenced all such criticisms as the best riders in the world were convincingly overshadowed by Armstrong's second successive victory.
As the 2001 Tour de France approaches, Armstrong's fans both in the world of cycling and beyond will be hoping to see an incredible hat-trick. Swiss supporters will now have the honour of watching the American's final preparations on the roads of Switzerland.
by Mark Ledsom
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