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Sunday, 23 July, 2000, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Tough Texan's battle
So much has been written about double Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's defeat of both cancer and his cycling rivals that it has almost become a cliché. Reading the man's own words puts much of it into perspective, and reveals the many sides of this unique sportsman.
Most sports fans know that Lance Armstrong is the man who survived cancer to win the Tour de France. But the bare facts hide the reality of what he went through in the dark days of 1996.
His recent autobiography - It's Not About the Bike - My Journey Back to Life - reveals the torturous struggle and triumphant return to form of a headstrong individual who is mentally and physically as strong as an ox.
It is the chapter describing the horrific developments of one week in October 1996 which is most shocking.
The American had felt unwell throughout the summer, abandoned the Tour de France after five days and disappointed on home soil at the Atlanta Olympics.
But he viewed the flu-like symptoms and splitting headaches as an occupational hazard and could point to good results in the spring as evidence that there was nothing seriously wrong.
However just days after celebrating his 25th birthday, this apparently fit athlete started coughing blood. His testicle had also swelled up "to three times its normal size".
The Texan knew he had to act. What he did not realise was that he was at death's door, about to be handed a 50% chance of survival by a specialist who admitted later that the odds of success were nearer one in 20 than one in two.
Minutes later he was shown a chest x-ray that revealed tumours the size of golf balls in his lungs, as well as the testicular problem.
With post-operative sterility a real threat, he made a harrowing journey to a sperm bank and then faced surgery to remove the infected reproductive organ.
This mentally numbing process took just 10 days- half the time it takes to win a Tour de France. Within the three- week time span of the race he would later conquer, Armstrong had successfully undergone brain surgery.
The book's description of this experience, and the cyclist's four intensive courses of chemotherapy, is not for those with weak stomachs.
But then Armstrong had battled against the odds throughout his life.
The famous American surname he shares with moonwalker Neil, and which the French press famously used to describe him as being "on another planet" last summer, is not his by birth.
His real father was called Gunderson, although the book reveals thinly-disguised contempt for the man he calls "the DNA donor".
As the marriage ended, Armstrong became a teenage rebel - albeit one who excelled at endurance sports and in particular the triathlon.
The account of his difficult adolescence is similar to the attitude displayed when the Texan arrived in Europe as a young professional cyclist, with little respect for authority and tradition.
Some might call it a champion's self confidence, but others would regard the way he lays into past enemies as naked arrogance, if not petty score-settling.
Cofidis, the French team who signed him shortly before the cancer diagnosis and then attempted to renegotiate the contract, come in for severe abuse.
So do the French journalists who accused him of doping in the 1999 Tour, and his mother's two husbands - the men who supplied his DNA and surname.
However the book is also generous - both to what Armstrong calls "the cancer community" - both victims and medical staff - and his family.
He met his wife Kristin while setting up the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which works to alleviate cancer suffering, and typically, Armstrong started a row with her well before he began the relationship.
He also admits that his post-recovery behaviour was unfair on a woman who had given up a well-paid job to follow him to Europe and then back to Texas again.
At that stage of 1998 he wanted to retire, and spent time drinking beer and playing golf before being shaken from his lethargy by two old friends.
Armstrong's rise back to glory was not as quick as the 10-day fall, but in just over a year he would be married, a Tour winner and a father.
With it all came stardom, including audiences with President Bill Clinton and talk show king David Letterman in a nation with little time for the sport of cycling.
But despite the glory Armstrong's greatest happiness is Luke David, the son created by IVF using that sperm he banked during his darkest hour.
But it is one which puts sport and the yellow jersey into perspective. Because as the book's title says, for this champion, It's not About the Bike.
It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins is published by Yellow Jersey press.
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