Sally Jenkins, the Washington Post sportswriter who ghosted Lance Armstrong’s two autobiographical books, offers a useful explanation of our fascination:
One minute, after nearly a month of suffering, decided who won this Tour. Lance’s ride into the history books was an essay in overcoming a succession of miseries and setbacks. He says he knew it was going to be a hard race when, the day before it began, a bird soiled the shoulder of his jersey. He got a stomach virus from his small son. He developed tendinitis in his hip. He rode a climb called the Galibier with his back brake dragging against the wheel because of a mechanical problem. He crashed twice. He got back up and rode through it all, while his competitors crashed and faded around him. What it may have amounted to in the end is that Lance felt, as race announcer Phil Liggett said, “The magnetism of a finish line.”
It’s in this respect that the best qualities of Lance Armstrong are available to you and me. Lance serves no purpose if people think that he survived cancer or wins races solely through some specialness, some rare gift. The most useful purpose he can serve is to tell people it’s an absolutely universal human experience to be tired and ill.