October 2003
Interview magazine
Lance Armstrong & Major Taylor
A century and a world apart, cycling's two legends
show courage in motion
By Allen Barra
Two American bicycle racers whose careers were a century apart, Lance Armstrong and Major Taylor, were born to be compared and contrasted. In their respective times, both men were arguably the most famous athletes in the world. Both were (and still are) regarded by their peers as the toughest, grittiest, and most daring competitors in one of the world's most thrilling and dangerous sports. Both traveled to France to achieve international fame--Armstrong because bicycle racing is no longer a high-profile sport in America, Taylor because he was black (in fact, one of the first black sports heroes) and therefore barred from riding in most prestigious races in his own country.

Both overcame tremendous obstacles: Armstrong battled testicular cancer, and Taylor rebelled against a relentless Jim Crow society that lauded his achievements on the front pages of its newspapers while trying to deny him a home in a white town as liberal as Worcester, Massachusetts.

As athletes, both men not only overcame their hurdles but seemed to thrive because of them. After the much-publicized crackup preceding his recent Tour de France victory, Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, commented, "I knew then that he was going to win. He's much better when he's fired up." One of Taylor's greatest triumphs came in Paris 100 years earlier, when he competed alongside white Americans he had been denied a chance to race against in the States. "He was a tiger," wrote one British journalist. "His humiliation became his fuel."

Presumably, Armstrong's autobiography, Every Second Counts (due out this month from Broadway Books), will fare better than Taylor's The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, which was published just as the Depression took hold. Taylor spent the last two years of his life selling his story door to door on the streets of Chicago.

Allen Barra is the author of "Clearing the Bases--The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century" (St. Martin's Press).

COPYRIGHT 2003 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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