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Old Guys/Gals Rule!

One very intriguing aspect of the Armstrong comeback is the message it sends to the world about endurance athletics and the age group of people who should feel invited to take part. On an amateur level, it's no secret that you can run, bike, swim, etc., a whole lot, well into your 50s and 60s, perhaps even longer. But Lance Armstrong is calling attention to a minor trend in sports, where people beyond the magic drop-(sports)-dead age of 35 are very competitive, perhaps even 100% as competitive as they had been in their purported peak. Sure, knees and ankles and shoulders and elbows get old, but the core muscles hang on for quite a while, and with modern conditioning, "hanging on" is shorthand for "as good as ever."

Armstrong cites swimmer Dara Torres as having planted the seed in his head that he wasn't done merely because he was 37. He also mentioned a few marathoners, men and women. He could have mentioned others: Joop Zoetemelk, oldest world champion at 38 years, 9 months, and winner of Amstel Gold at 40. Jeannie Longo, Olympic gold medalist at 38, world champion at 42, and still going strong at 50. Erik Zabel, who's Lance's age and retains everything but that last little burst of sprint speed. I'll look forward to hearing from y'all about the numerous examples I'm leaving out.

For an endurance athlete, the timeline of the typical career has more to do with burnout and life choices than loss of performance, or so Armstrong says. Once again, Lance isn't like normal people: he didn't put off having a family, and has a stable enough post-divorce life to afford a cycling comeback. He had some long breaks in his career, for cancer and retirement, to ease the burnout factor. He still has a one-in-a-million cardiovascular system. He has a resume that will open/knock down every door in the sport. As old guys go, Lance is as logical a person to keep on going as anyone.

Will this prove to cyclists and other endurance athletes that they shouldn't dismiss their late-30s/early-40s ability to compete, if that's what they want to be doing? Will this open the floodgates for other late-EPO-era riders like Ullrich and Cipo* and Boogerd* and god knows who else to come back and check out the new, clean version of Cycling? Everything Lance does is big, whether he means it to be or not, and this message to older athletes may be the biggest lasting effect of his latest venture.

*not calling a doper; just of the era.