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Posted at 04:08 PM ET, 04/26/2012

John Edwards on a bike in Iowa: It all looks different now

BOULDER, Colo. - John Edwards once told She The People leader Melinda Henneberger that the trick to charming a jury is telling them upfront about the holes in the case, so they trust you.


Former U.S. Senator John Edwards and his daughter Cate Edwards leave the federal court house after jury selection in Greensboro, North Carolina in this April 12, 2012 file photo. (CHRIS KEANE - REUTERS)

Following Edwards's trial on charges of campaign finance violations in North Carolina this week takes me back to a day in the middle of Iowa in July 2007. Looking back, the holes are clear - but it also appears the trust already had been breached.

It was during the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa - RAGBRAI. Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was riding the entire week, along with 15,000 others that year. Armstrong, with an interest in the presidential race and promoting more money for cancer research, had offered to ride along with any presidential contender who wanted to come along.

John Edwards was the only one who took up the offer. So on a Wednesday morning, some journalist girlfriends and I ended up on our bikes on a farmstead, chatting with a farm wife, waiting with the rest of the press for Edwards to show up. The man of the farm was inside Armstrong's fancy tour bus, watching the Tour de France via the satellite dish atop the bus.

We waited and waited, as riders flowed past, the road closed to virtually all traffic to accommodate the ride.

Finally, the Edwards family rode up - John, Elizabeth and their two younger kids, then about 6 and 8. 

They didn't look all that happy. (Of course, if I'd been a kid that age forced to ride a bicycle a mile or two in the middle of an Iowa summer, I wouldn't have been that thrilled either.)

As they arrived at the farmhouse, Armstrong finally left his tour bus. He and Edwards met the media on one side of the bus.

But a crowd began to form alongside the road - they were mostly women, stopping mid-ride to meet and commend Elizabeth Edwards on her battle against cancer. Her breast-cancer relapse had been announced just a few months before, but that day she looked good, if just a little peeved on the ride up. She was surrounded, and graciously chatted with her admirers as her husband lapped up the media attention.

As Edwards hit the road with Armstrong, we were among the few journalists riding along (and we were doing the entire ride).

For Armstrong, Edwards was a bit of an albatross. Typically, the Tour winner rode in a pack of friends at speeds considerably faster than the 12 to 15 mph of most casual riders. And Edwards was definitely a casual rider, on a Trek bicycle without toeclips or cages. He told us he'd ridden a bike for the first time in a while the Sunday before, just a few miles. That day, he was aiming for 15 - though a typical RAGBRAI day is closer to 60. 

Amusing to those of us riding along was that other riders were mostly fascinated by Armstrong. Edwards' slow pace meant it was the first time mortals could actually keep up with the cycling god. When we arrived at a nearby town, people were shouting Armstrong's name, but they really didn't notice Edwards much. 

Eventually, Armstrong dropped Edwards, apparently frustrated by the slow pace, and the candidate continued a few more miles before stopping in a small town to help serve pork chops.

We biked on.

And at the end of the day, in Cedar Falls, I stopped to chat with some folks wearing Joe Biden T-shirts. Notebook out, I jokingly asked why their candidate wasn't riding with Armstrong.

I got a quick rebuke from the blonde rider at the front of the pack. Her husband was in Washington, D.C., in the Senate for important votes, Jill Biden said, even, to my recollection, noting that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were doing their duty there too. 

That was unlike some folks, who'd left their day job to campaign full time. 

Now, looking back, I realize that Edwards was in the process of cover ingup the affair during that bike ride. It's possible Elizabeth knew about it - and if she did, her grace at the time was amazing. 

Jill Biden was right to point that other candidates were actually at work in the Senate.

And it makes one wonder how Edwards could drag his dying wife and two young children through all this.

 

Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette

By  |  04:08 PM ET, 04/26/2012

Tags:  John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, Lance Armstrong, RAGBRAI, Iowa

 
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