While Lance Armstrong pedaled across France for the last three weeks, Doron Kochavi trained six days a week, circling the Rose Bowl for hours and mounting grueling climbs on Angeles Crest Highway.
Sixteen years ago, Kochavi's 4-year-old son, Ari, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Today, Ari is 20 and his father is one of 24 cyclists preparing to ride alongside Armstrong in the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope -- a cross-country relay that begins Sept. 29 in San Diego.
"As a cyclist, Lance is God," said Kochavi, 56, of La Canada Flintridge, a senior managing director at Bear Stearns in Century City. "The real connection is cancer."
Nine years ago, doctors gave Armstrong less than a 50% chance of survival after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. Today, barring disaster, Armstrong is expected to glide into Paris for a final triumphant ride down the Champs-Elysees, claiming a record seventh consecutive Tour de France victory before retiring from the sport at 33.
"I don't think we'll see anything like Lance in our lifetime," said Bobby Julich, an American rider and a former teammate.
Armstrong's legacy in the sport is immense.
Competitors credit him with changing the way riders approach the world's most famous bike race. His focus on technology and the intensity of his training have helped propel the sport at a time when it was battered by drug scandals. Even Armstrong is not immune to accusations, though he has never failed a doping test.
Yet, even with his considerable influence on cycling, his legacy might be as great among cancer survivors and the many others who don't know a pedal from a peloton.
His recovery from cancer inspired a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life."
It also spawned one of the most ubiquitous trends in recent years -- the rubber bracelet for a cause.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation has sold more than 52 million yellow Livestrong bracelets and has awarded more than $15 million in research grants.
The organization also has contributed to more than 100 community programs, among them Padres Contra El Cancer (Parents Against Cancer), a Los Angeles-based program that seeks to support Latino families dealing with childhood cancer, and Teen Impact, a Children's Hospital Los Angeles program.
Armstrong, who seemingly cruised through his final Tour de France, leading most of the way despite never winning a stage before claiming the final time trial Saturday, said his work with cancer survivors would continue even though his racing days are over.
"When I've retired, no matter what I do, it will involve the foundation," he said. "We're all different. Some survivors prefer not to talk about cancer and move on. Cancer will always be part of who I am and I will always be speaking out and working towards a cure. I was lucky and I feel like I need to pay back for my luck."
His second-chance career also has made him wealthy, with Sports Illustrated recently ranking him No. 28 among the highest-paid U.S. athletes, with a relatively modest $500,000 earned on his bike but $17.5 million a year in endorsements.
Armstrong's reign also has helped bolster bicycle sales in the U.S., where sales overall have been flat since the 1990s mountain-bike boom slowed.
Road bikes -- which retail for an average of $1,150 -- accounted for 28% of sales at specialty bike dealers last year, up from 16% two years earlier, according to the Costa Mesa-based National Bicycle Dealers Assn.
The biggest beneficiary has been Trek Bicycle Corp., in tiny Waterloo, Wis. The company's marketing director, Dick Moran, signed Armstrong to an equipment deal in 1997 after Armstrong's illness, but before his first Tour victory.
"It was purely almost as a human-interest thing, that he thought it would be worth the investment," Trek spokesman Zapata Espinoza said. "He laughs at it now, almost hysterically."
The appetite for Trek's bikes -- including its $8,000 carbon-fiber models, many of them purchased by baby-boomer recreational riders with expendable income -- has helped made Trek the leading manufacturer in the specialty bicycle market.
"We can't make enough," Espinoza said.
Armstrong has pushed the company's advances in technology.
"Lighter and stiffer is his mantra," Espinoza said.
Many say Armstrong's drive to eke the most out of his bike and his body is what he has bequeathed to a sport once known for athletes' casual approach to the off-season.
"No one trained like Lance and I admire that," said Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion and five-time runner-up who once astonished observers by saying he would "race myself into shape in the first week of the Tour."
Julich, Armstrong's contemporary and sometime-teammate, has watched him evolve.
"He understood his body and learned about nutrition," Julich said. "He trained hard all year long. He didn't wait to start until April.