Let me first tell you that I'm a bit of a movie buff. So, I was reading a profile of one of my favourite actors last weekend, Spaniard Javier Bardem, who played the stoned-faced psychopath Anton Chigurh in the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men Ã¢â¬â who can forget his bowl-shaped haircut or that compressed-air bolt gun? Ã¢â¬â which happened to be shot in part in Lance Armstrong's home state of Texas.
It goes without saying Chigurh, with his ridiculous hairdo and weapon of mass destruction to boot, looked completely out of place in the mostly white-man inhabited and arid West Texan landscape. (Directors Joel and Ethan Coen said that to avoid a sense of identification, they wanted to make it look as if he "could have come from Mars".) But Bardem himself told the author of the article: "I felt isolated for many reasons.
"I was the only foreign guy on the whole set, and being deep in Texas is a hard place for a Spaniard to be," he said. "But I felt I was looking for that isolation also, as a way to understand my character. And even though I was with the Coen brothers, who are great guys, and Josh Brolin, who is a funny and amazing man, I couldn't really connect with them."
What's this got to do with cycling? I hear you ask.
I can't help but think Bardem's fish-out-of-water experience in Texas is exactly how Armstrong felt in the weeks Ã¢â¬â and possibly months Ã¢â¬â leading to his premature decision to retire from the sport, for a second time.
"I really thought I was going to win another Tour," Armstrong said of his comeback in 2009, but instead, after two-and-a-half years' toil, he walked away with just a relatively small criterium win to his name, the Nevada City Classic, on 21 June, 2009 (although his team did win the team time trial at that year's Tour de France).
As in his heyday, he had the audacity to say afterwards: "We will be ready for the Tour and we'll be strong"; as things turned out, his then team-mate Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck were even stronger, relegating the seven-time champ to a still creditable third.
In what some would say was a premeditated move to steal the limelight from Contador, Armstrong announced his new team on the day the Spaniard effectively sealed his second Tour victory, when the no longer beef-lover won the final time trial in Annecy. But even with an entire team at his disposal, gastro that forced him to miss most of the Spring Classics, crashes before (at California) and during the Tour, and most likely age, too, got the better of him in 2010, finishing his final Grande Boucle 23rd overall, 39 minutes and 20 seconds adrift of the winner, Contador again (or so we think).
Maybe his once good friend turned bad, Floyd Landis, apparently 'coming clean' last May and spilling the beans to ESPN and the Wall Street Journal, which sparked an ongoing U.S. federal investigation championed by BALCO lead agent Jeff Novitzky, had something to do with it.
"I can't control what goes on in regards to the investigation," he said on 16 February, strangely granting the interview to announce his retirement to Associated Press, a wire service, rather than the Austin-American Statesman, the hometown paper that has treated him so well and with such unfettered bias over the years. "That's why I hire people to help me with that. I try not to let it bother me and just keep rolling right along. I know what I know. I know what I do and I know what I did. That's not going to change."
Whatever it was, it was clearly not the Armstrong of old: the one that could win at will, intimidate his rivals to second or worse before a pedal had been turned, sell those yellow Livestrong wristbands as if they were going out of style, and brush off doping allegations like he was made of Teflon.
He probably felt like a Spaniard in West Texas.
Armstrong could've done without another season. But the birth of his fifth child, Olivia Marie, last October, means more bills to pay, and the lure of a lucrative appearance fee at the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under, somewhere in the range of US$1-2 million, was too good to pass up. Money still talks.
He ended the race anonymously in 67th place, 42 places behind his performance the previous year and 6'42 behind overall winner Cameron Meyer, 16 years his junior and at 23 years old versus Armstrong's 39, young enough to be his son.
The TDU was supposed to be his last international race, but as we learned last Wednesday (Europe time) when he announced what's been dubbed "Retirement 2.0", it was his last race, period.
For me, it wasn't much of a surprise. What surprised me far more was your nonchalance.
It was Thursday in Australia when we received the news, and it was the lead story on Cycling Central for the entire morning Ã¢â¬â but no-one seemed to care.
The world's most prominent cyclist Ã¢â¬â the guy many believe made cycling mainstream in non-cycling nations, at least during the Tour de France Ã¢â¬â the guy UCI president Pat McQuaid said has "become a global icon for cycling" and "the sport of cycling has a lot to be thankful for because of Lance Armstrong" Ã¢â¬â the guy TDU organiser Mike Turtur said was largely responsible for putting his race on the world map Ã¢â¬â generated a total of zero comments from you, the readers.
I even emailed editor Phil Gomes to see if it was indeed the case ("No one cared," he replied). By contrast, the same story on VeloNews generated 195 comments (although no-one re-tweeted the story, and just one person recommended it via Facebook).
The presumption that Armstrong will enter politics has been quashed Ã¢â¬â "For now, absolutely not on my radar," he said Ã¢â¬â so will he simply become a stay-at-home dad, spruik the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the fight against cancer, and dabble once again with owning a cycling team?
Then again, what do you care? Or do you? And why are you so blasÃ© about it?