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Oro-Medonte native Lex Albrecht discusses Armstrong’s fall from grace and its effect on her sport

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Competitive racer Lex Albrecht, who grew up in Oro-Medonte Township, says news that cyclist Lance Armstrong had admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs was devastating to her. “It was something that was a little tough to swallow,” she said. “It’s definitely a story that broke my heart a little bit.” SUBMITTED

Competitive racer Lex Albrecht, who grew up in Oro-Medonte Township, says news that cyclist Lance Armstrong had admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs was devastating to her. “It was something that was a little tough to swallow,” she said. “It’s definitely a story that broke my heart a little bit.” SUBMITTED

As a teenager growing up in Oro-Medonte Township and her own riding career just beginning, Lex Albrecht looked up to Lance Armstrong.

And why not.

Armstrong was dominating cycling on the world’s biggest stage, winning the Tour de France year after year, had beaten cancer and started LIVESTRONG, a foundation that has raised millions of dollars to help find a cure for cancer and help improve the lives of people affected by the deadly disease.

Some 10 years later, Albrecht could only watch as Armstrong admitted during a recent TV interview with Oprah Winfrey to using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Armstrong had bitterly fought doping accusations for years, often lashing out and threatening legal action against anyone who dared point a finger at him.

In the end, Armstrong was proven to be a liar.

The real shame is that he let so many people down, people like Albrecht, who had once idolized him for his hard work, dedication to the sport and all he has done to help fight cancer.

“It was something that was a little tough to swallow because he was somebody that so many people looked up to, myself included,” said Albrecht, herself now a professional rider and one of Canada’s rising young stars.

A fierce advocate of clean riding, Albrecht, who now lives in Quebec City, has a bachelor’s degree in medical biology from the Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres.

She spent two years working in Montreal for famed anti-doping expert Prof. Christiane Ayotte before quitting her job to concentrate fully on her cycling career.

“It is something so important to me and something I am so passionate about,” Albrecht said of working in an anti-doping laboratory.

As tough as it was hearing about the cyclist she once idolized finally come clean about being a drug cheat, it’s not in any way changed her passion for the sport she has poured so much of her life into.

“It’s definitely a story that broke my heart a little bit, but it’s not representative of the cycling world I’m a part of and the reality cycling is in right now, so it’s definitely not going to hold me back.”

The sport of cycling has been rocked over the last several years with the news of riders being caught doping, but no drug cheats have dominated the headlines like Armstrong.

The American rider was the face of the sport for many years. And while he may have been the biggest name, Albrecht is quick to remind everyone that no one is bigger than the sport itself.

“Lance isn’t what cycling is. Lance isn’t cycling,” she said. “He’s part of it for sure, and he definitely was a big figure in cycling, but cycling in itself is not dependant on Lance Armstrong.

“He’s not part of the sport anymore and hasn’t been for a while.”

Albrecht spends countless hours every day training. She gets up in the wee hours of the morning to begin a gruelling workout routine.

Most riders do the same and she is quick to remind anyone how unfair it is to paint everyone with the same brush.

Yes, there have been drug cheats, but the sport has moved in giant leaps forward to rid itself of those who don’t compete clean.

Armstrong’s success in competition, coupled with his story of battling cancer and ability to speak so well in front of a camera, drew major attention and made him one of sport’s most popular athletes worldwide.

His fall from grace is playing out to be just as dramatic.

“It’s something really, really sensational in the media and other athletes who have done maybe similar bad things haven’t necessarily got as much media attention as Lance does, so I think it’s a bit unfair for cycling,” Albrecht said.

“At the same time, it’s important to understand that this is one story in itself and it’s not representative of what cycling is,” she added. “I think most people understand that.”

Albrecht’s main focus has been on her own riding career and she has plenty of reason to be excited with a new season around the corner and a new team to represent.

She now rides with the NOW (No Opportunity Wasted) Novartis Professional Cycling Team.

Created by Phil Keoghan, host and produce of The Amazing Race on CBS, and his wife, Louise Keoghan, the pro team, which helps create awareness for those living with multiple sclerosis (MS), is led by American standout Alison Powers and 2011 National Champion Robin Farina.

Albrecht’s the lone Canadian rider and she joins a women’s team that had 28 victories and more than 70 podium finishes in 2012.

“It’s a brand-new opportunity,” said Albrecht, who rode last season with Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team. “It’s going to be a real great experience for me.

“The director of the team (Kurt Stockton) is a previous U.S. champion (1990),” Albrecht said. “He has an excellent amount of experience under his belt. There’s a lot of strong riders on the team.”

Albrecht went to the first team camp held in December in California to get set up on new specialized bikes. Unfortunately, she was sick and spent most of the camp in bed.

“I still had a great time, regardless, just because the girls were so great and they were able to joke around with me and they took excellent care of me,” Albrecht said. “I think that in itself spoke volumes about the whole atmosphere and the spirit of the team. That’s a sign of things to come during the season.”

Albrecht also has a new coach. She is thrilled to be training at Powerwatts Studio in Montreal with coach Chris Rozdiskly, who also guided Canadian Olympic cyclist Clara Hughes.

Several Olympic riders train at the same facility.

“It’s something I’m real excited about and it’s cool for me to have a change in my training structure, style and techniques that I’m using now,” said Albrecht, who does a lot of work on a bike indoors as well as cross-country skiing along with strength and weight work.”

It’ll be another busy year for the local native, who will also represent her country again in several competitions.

Albrecht’s first race with her new team will be the Merco Cycling Classic, held in Merced, Calif., from Feb. 28 to March 3.

After that her and her NOW (No Opportunity Wasted) Novartis Professional Cycling teammates will take part in a training camp that runs March 3-12 in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Albrecht also still manages to fit into her busy schedule time to work developing young cyclists back in Trois Riveres. She loves mentoring the young riders and is called an “honorary godmother” to recognize her efforts.

While Armstrong may have let her down, Albrecht says she is more determined than ever to make sure she is a good role model for young riders.

That means whatever success she has in road racing comes from honest, hard work.

“The Canadian national team actually has a great slogan that I think represents that feeling pretty well,” she said. “It’s called, ‘Race clean and own your own victory.’ I like that slogan quite a bit. That’s a good thing to ride and train by.”

She’s proud of what Canadian riders have been able to accomplish on the world scene today and is excited about the future of the sport in the country.

She points to fellow Canadian Ryder Hesjedal who won the Giro d’Italia last year, the Italian version of the Tour de France.

“This is really a great time for Canadian cycling and that’s something that’s really exciting,” Albrecht said.

Armstrong may have disappointed Albrecht, but that won’t stop her one bit.

“The Lance story, I think, is something that is a little bit sad, but it’s something that’s definitely not getting me down and I don’t think it’s getting the sport down either,” she said.

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