5 Real Bicycling Heroes

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Greg LemondGreg Lemond

Three-time Tour de France winner and anti-doping advocate Greg LeMond at the Tour of the Battenkill in 2012. Image (c) John Ceceri Jr./Adirondack Ultra Cycling

For years, whenever the Tour de France rolled around, people who knew that my husband and I love cycling would ask us if we were rooting for Lance Armstrong. And I would change the subject before they wondered why I didn’t wear a yellow wristband. In the cycling community, the questions about Armstrong’s use of banned substances to help him win seven Tours were just too hard to dismiss.

So it’s with a great sense of relief that I watched Armstrong come clean, more or less, with Oprah the past two nights. For many other people, though, Armstrong was a hero. And the revelations about his charitable organization Livestrong and his own drug use has come as a powerful blow.

But despite the hit the sport is now taking in the national consciousness, there are still real bicycling heroes we can look up to. Here are a few names in the cycling world that we as Geek Parents can proudly tell our kids about:

Michael ShermerMichael Shermer

Skeptic Michael Shermer at the height of his ultracycling career in the 1980s. Image (c) John Ceceri Jr./Adirondack Ultra Cycling

Greg LeMond: He was an American cyclist who won the Tour de France, suffered a life-threatening medical emergency, and came back to win again and again. Greg LeMond was the first non-European to ever win the Tour, and his story rivals Armstrong’s for drama. After working faithfully for his team on several Tours, LeMond finally grabbed his chance and the title in 1986. A year later he was accidentally shot on a hunting trip and nearly died. It took two years for him to get back to the Tour, and he went on to wear the yellow jersey twice more. LeMond was also an anti-doping activist, who for decades spoke out against Armstrong and his team doctor, Michele Ferrari. According to the cycling magazine Velo News, LeMond’s insistence that Armstrong was cheating cost the older cyclist his standing in the pro community and his bicycle business.

Michael Shermer: Better known as founder of the Skeptics Society and a frequent spokesman for science over pseudoscience and fraud, Michael Shermer helped start the sport of ultramarathon cycling and the famous Race Across America. He raced in RAAM five times and helped run the race for several years as well. Shermer also helped develop the first hard-shell bicycle helmet and gel bicycle saddles. He holds a Ph.D. in the History of Science and teaches a course called “How to Think Like a Scientist” at Chapman College.

Bill Nye: He’s not just The Science Guy. He’s also the Cycling Guy. Last year he was spotted riding in the Five Boro Bike Tour with Neil deGrasse Tyson. He has talked about the way cities of the future will cater to cyclists, with showers and laundry delivery for commuters who need to change when they get into the office. As he told The New York Times, “Nothing gives me greater joy than riding my bike.”

Pete PensyresPete Pensyres

RAAM record-holder and engineer Pete Pensyres after a race in 1984. Image (c) John Ceceri Jr./Adirondack Ultra Cycling

Pete Pensyres: A nuclear engineer, Pensyres is another of the original ultracyclists. He set the speed record for RAAM in 1986, crossing the country on a 3107 route in 8 days, 9 hours, and 47 minutes, an average of 15.4 mph. When Pensyres crewed for his brother Jim, a Vietnam Vet amputee who bikes with a leg prosthesis, he introduced an early prototype of the aerobar now used extensively by trialtheletes. (He says he never patented the funny-looking handlebars because he thought only the tiny ultracycling community would want to use them.) He and his brother were also members of a team who did RAAM on a Human Powered Vehicle or HPV, a bicycle enclosed by an aerodynamic faring. The team averaged 24 mph, finishing 5 days, 1 hour, 8 minutes.

Kristin Armstrong: Cycling’s “other Armstrong” is the most decorated female cyclist in US history. She holds three World Titles, five National Championships, and won Olympic Gold Medals in the Time Trial in 2008 and 2012. Kristen Armstrong (no relationship to Lance or his first wife, also named Kristin) was a professional triathlete, but developed osteoarthritis, and was told to focus on cycling as therapy. She retired after her Olympic win last year, having brought nothing but honor to the sport of cycling.

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