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Norway ’93: Lance Armstrong’s Worlds win revisited

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The last time the Worlds were in Norway, a brash Texan asserted himself as the new star of the English speaking cycling world. William Fotheringham was there

Photographs: Offside/L'Equipe
Lance Armstrong, World Champion, Oslo 1993

Little did we know. The last time (the only previous time) the world road championships visited Norway was a different, now-distant world, a prelapsarian era of innocence, 1993: when EPO was barely even a shadow on the cycling horizon, when doping was rarely mentioned in the milieu and the UCI were gradually exporting their rainbow races outside the heartland.

 

It was a shorter week culminating in a rainy Sunday, when the racing happened at the end of August as tradition denoted, with a team time trial, and senior racing only.

 

It was not a better world, but a different one, less diverse, less diffuse: the fact that the star turn in Oslo 1993 was Lance Armstrong fits that picture.

Lance Armstrong, World Champion, Oslo 1993
Lance Armstong, world champion at 21

A different Armstrong: bigger in the shoulders, brasher in the speech, and brilliant to watch when he raced his bike. He had been tipped as cycling’s coming man for 12 months, he had won a stage in the Tour de France and most of us liked what we saw: a young man who knew no fear, who gave good quote and raced hard.

 

Here was a new English-speaking star to take over from fading lights such as Robert Millar, Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond and Stephen Roche, who retired that year.

 

Armstrong survived what was essentially an elimination race in the wet and escaped on the last lap to win alone. Miguel Indurain – dubbed a “boring” rider but no slouch at the World’s – took silver, from Olaf Ludwig, underlining the great virtue of the late August date. The men of the Tour were still at their best, so the Tour winner started the world road race championships, and could be counted among the favourites.

Lance Armstrong, World Champion, Oslo 1993
Miguel Indurain and Olaf Ludwig stood with Armstrong on the podium

Oslo was a brutal race, as I saw first hand during several laps of the slithery urban course in the Great Britain team car sitting alongside the then manager John Herety.

 

On reflection, I probably got such a ringside seat because there were three British hacks there at most. There was no one else competing for space. In the days between the golden Millar era and the Team Sky years, the plucky Britons turned up to receive a kicking; Herety’s task was largely to see that they took it like men.

 

A wholly urban course in the wet; there were more crashes than I can recall seeing in any bike race apart from the muddiest editions of Paris-Roubaix. Millar, in his column for Cycle Sport, said it was a “band-aid award” race. It was utter chaos, a constant struggle for the following cars to avoid one faller after another. Our jaws dropped as we saw riders managing to lose control going uphill as well as down into one particular nasty off-camber corner.

Lance Armstrong, World Champion, Oslo 1993
Conditions were atrocious. Armstrong took on the old guard

Millar also wrote of post-race “rehydration”, which did not involve recovery drinks and which happened in a chosen night club. The rainbow jersey was among those “rehydrating” furiously.

 

Back with Armstrong: this was his age of innocence as well as ours. The way he raced, the character he showed help explain the emotions that emerged in all of us when news of his cancer emerged – at the first Worlds of the late Hein Verbruggen’s new era in 1996.

Lance Armstrong and his mother Linda, Oslo 1993
Armstrong and his mother Linda celebrate

That in turn explains, to some extent at least, the leeway he was given when he emerged from the cancer refashioned with the help of Dr Michele Ferrari as a Tour de France winner.

 

Back then in Oslo, the feeling was that this guy – and maybe the amateur race winner, a strong lad from East Germany called Jan Ullrich – would dominate cycling in the future.

 

We got that right, but that was about all. Little did we know…

 

Worlds winner mug