I am Lance – May 2005
Back in February 2005, I was one of a few cyclists in the Thames Valley area approached by Jim Kempton, a sculptor for Madame Tussaud’s, if they thought themselves suitable to be a body double for the new waxwork model of Lance Armstrong, planned to appear later that year. I emailed them a few pictures of me racing, not expecting much. The other cyclists were either too busy (you needed to have a bit of flexibility in your time to get to the West London studio in the week every so often) or the wrong shape (I have the triathlete’s shoulders that Lance has), so I got the gig. I ended up going for quite a few modelling sessions, where they sculpted a replica of my body and then placed the replica head on top. I’m very similar in size, and a similar shape, but just a centimetre or so shorter in the femur, so they added a little bit of length there when they took my dimensions.
Once they’d decided on a pose (it had to look realistic, and I had to be able to hold it for very long periods of time), they first took many photographs and hundreds of measurements of me astride the bike (in my underwear – fortunately the studio is quite warm!), rotating through 360 degrees on a turntable. The previous visitor for measurement on the turntable that day had been a bit more famous than me: Shirley Bassey.
Then when the clay had been roughed out (all the modelling is done in clay), I went back for two more 5-hour ‘sittings’ where they tidied up the details, and made sure the head that Jim had made looked OK on my neck. Jim modelled the head entirely from photographs, since they couldn’t get Lance into the studio for a modelling session, and the whole waxwork has worked out very well. I did the last session wearing the Discovery Team kit that the waxwork would be wearing. I also got to wear Lance’s Nike shoes with the world championship stripes – he’s the same shoe size as me (43). They have many sets of the kit to dress the final model in as it gets a bit worn out with so much contact from the public and needs to be replaced on a regular basis.
The model is incredibly life-like – down to the exact veins in my arms and legs, with a few of my crash scars on the elbows and knees too. Once the cast of the body had been made and coloured, I got a chance to go along and see the final model in the studio; my then wife, Sara, came with me that last time. The studio shots were taken as a reference point before the models were crated up (two were made – one for Amsterdam, and one for New York. No Lance for London – they thought there wasn’t enough interest in cycling here at the time!) The artists studio is littered with work-in-progress and finished hands, arms and heads, just lying around on shelves and so on. The whole experience was amazing, and the finished body is just like me! I think Jim was very pleased with the way it worked out. He’s quite a keen cyclist, and a member of Oxford Tri. I think he’d been hankering after doing a model of Larry for quite some time.
Postscript – The wax work in London
I went to watch the Tour de France prologue in Hyde Park in 2007, and in the Tour Village stumbled across a tent where they’d set up the Lance Armstrong wax work so you could have your photo taken with him. I got another chance to pose with myself. We also came across Lance in the permanent exhibit in Madame Tussaud’s London, in 2008 when we got some cheap tickets for it. They evidently must’ve decided that it was worth having him in London after all. Maybe one day, I’ll get to meet the man himself.