Joel Reichenberger: Believing in Lance

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— Lance Armstrong is certainly no stranger to Colorado, but still today, when he visits to ride in the inaugural Ride 4 Yellow event, all of Steamboat Springs will stand a little straighter, chest puffed out a little more.

One of sports’ top celebrities is here, and that’s pretty cool.

Not so much in the cool department as the interesting category: Lance’s visit comes at a fascinating time in his career, which has been beset by allegations of illegal doping and other nefarious acts since he won his first of seven Tour de France championships in 1999.

The heat has been turned up on Armstrong, thanks to a government investigation that has gained traction this year. While we at the Steamboat newspaper have been cranking out stories about Armstrong’s visit, newspapers elsewhere have been breaking leaks in the case and new confessions from teammates.

If the most-asked question this summer in Steamboat has been “How can I see Lance?” the second may be “Do you think he cheated?”

I’ve never been able to make up my mind in that regard, but only recently have I started really hoping one way or the other.

I hope he didn’t. I hope he’ll be entirely vindicated.

Until I started delving into the stories of Ride 4 Yellow participants, I didn’t realize how important Armstrong was to those who have fought and are fighting cancer.

It’s been a rough week of writing for the newspaper. It started Wednesday, when my friend and the friend of many in town, Andy Caress, succumbed to melanoma, losing a nearly two-year fight after having appeared to be on the road to recovery just several months ago.

Since then, I’ve written preview stories for today’s Ride 4 Yellow event and without exception, those I’ve interviewed have had heartbreaking cancer stories to share.

One thing all have had in common is a link to Arm­strong. People appreciate his strength, not just in beating the cancer that nearly took his life 14 years ago, but also in waging all-out war on the disease in the years since.

Dave Nagel, the man behind today’s stunningly successful event, said he has been overwhelmed by letters and requests from those stricken with cancer near and far, all hoping to get a second of Armstrong’s attention.

It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer, who hasn’t been left wondering why it wreaks so much havoc.

Thus, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t respect what Armstrong has done to raise money to fight the disease.

I wish I could say the answers to questions about Armstrong’s Tour victories wouldn’t have any bearing on his legacy and those who cling to his story, but I fear they will.

They shouldn’t. His is an amazing story even if he had engines implanted in his legs. But I think they will, and after connecting with those who have found so much in Armstrong to believe in, I can’t help but pull for Lance.

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