Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.
Every time I win another Tour, I prove that I’m alive– and therefore that others can survive, too. I’ve survived cancer again, and again, and again, and again. I’ve won four Tour titles, and I wouldn’t mind a record-tying five. That would be some good living.
But the fact is that I wouldn’t have won even a single Tour de France without the lesson of illness. What it teaches is this: pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.
To me, just finishing the Tour de France is a demonstration of survival. The arduousness of the race, the sheer unreasonableness of the job, the circumnavigation of an entire country on a bicycle, village to village, along its shores, across its bridges, up and over the mountain peaks they call cols, requires a matchless stamina. The Tour is so taxing that Dutch rider Hennie Kuiper once said, after a long climb up an alp, “The snow had turned black in my eyes.” It’s not unlike the stamina of people who are ill every day. The Tour is a daily festival of human suffering, of minor tragedies and comedies, all conducted in the elements, sometimes terrible weather and sometimes fine, over flats, and into headwinds, with plenty of crashes. And it’s three weeks long. Think about what you were doing three weeks ago. It feels like last year.