Tucson is well known in the bicycle world. Its streets often have bike paths, and Vermont Bicycle Tours, one of the better bicycle touring companies -- personal experience speaking here -- runs tours out of Tucson.
But lately the city has been agog> Lance Armstrong and his Radio Shack team have been practicing in Tucson for a month. The newspapers and local media have been full of pictures and commentary, as the team works out on and around our mountains and parks.
In the media, one usually sees these guys pedaling hard in clumps, sweat running down their faces, their visages set in grimaces. But these are either teamwork shots or in some cases mountain shots. Usually, one sees these guys on the road either alone pumping the pedals or in groups of two or three.
But I've also seen them alone, churning out the miles through our neighborhood, either approaching Mount Lemon, a popular climb for professionals, or back on the downside. And that makes sense. While teamwork is no doubt an important part of the Tour de France and professional touring, it's individual endurance and strength, combined with teamwork that carries them to the finish line.
Sometimes these guys wear Team Radio Shack uniforms, sometimes uniforms they've worn before -- like last year's Tour.
But until today, I hadn't seen Lance, except on TV or in the local newspapers.
Today was different. I spotted Lance as I was leaving the Safeway parking lot. He was turning onto Catalina Highway, heading toward Mount Lemon. He was wearing yellow -- what else? -- and pumping hard.
While I was sitting, my jaw dropping as realization set in, I noticed a group of three teenager bikers pull out from next to me to follow Lance. Evidently, they'd done some scouting and wanted a bird's eye view, or maybe they wanted to see if they could keep up.
I waited until Lance had sped by me and the kids behind him pulled out before I turned right, too, to follow. I drove slow, about fifteen miles per hour.
I noticed Lance turn around, spot the teenagers and then slow up. He waited for them to catch up. Some high fives were slapped, some words exchanged, and then Lance pulled what he did in the Alps the last time he won the Tour de France. He stood on his pedals and left everybody in his dust.
I passed the kids and crept up behind Lance. He was now going twenty-some miles per hour. No traffic was approaching, so I swung wide and passed him. Looked over, caught his eye, flashed him a big thumbs up. Lance smiled.
And that made my day.
What a guy, Lance Armstrong. An American hero.