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Comeback 'Kid' - Lance Armstrong
By Tim Lee
Date: 12/6/2009
Comeback 'Kid' - Lance Armstrong

Comeback 'Kid' - Lance Armstrong 
The biggest comeback in cycling and possibly sporting history is now officially one season old. So how does Lance, circa 2009, fit in with the sport of today?

The biggest comeback in cycling and possibly sporting history is now officially one season old. So how does Lance, circa 2009, fit in with the sport of today? How does he measure up against the UCI, media, other riders, race organisers, and drug testers? We take a moment to assesses the parameters which define whether his season has been successful or not.

Lance Armstrong at the start of stage 2, made his debut in the Giro d'Italia.
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti  

Despite the fact that there is still almost a full calendar month remaining until the end of the year, the 2009 road season is effectively behind us and has been for sometime. This point underlined by the fact that most teams have already had their first 'pre-2010 camp' get togethers and informal meetings to formulate their strategies for success next year. The world of road racing is a constantly changing and evolving beast that serves as a perfect reminder that time will never stand still. One man who can perhaps vouch for this more than most is Lance Armstrong.

The Circus hits the road again...
Out of the sport as of July 2005, the seven-time Tour de France champ re-entered the cauldron that is professional sport in January this year, some 1274 days after his last professional UCI registered road race, as a 37 year old veteran. Depending on your perception, the now 38 year old Texan had a point to prove- why else would he return? Or was he simply back for the much trotted out reasons that have already been suggested? See, that is the thing with Lance. He is perhaps the most divisive figure in cycling, world sport, even when it comes to individual opinion and his comeback this year only added to this theme.

2009 Giro: Lance climbs the Passo del Termine in the stage 12 time trial - riding back into form getting stronger each day. Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti  

The comeback itself has been well documented all year, maybe too well documented as it has overshadowed his actual racing and even the results of many other riders at times. But now, as he prepares to enter the 2010 season with a completely new team, it is an appropriate time to analyse how his comeback season rated not only in terms of results, but also how he reacquainted himself with the sport that has provided the pedestal on which he now sits. However, as with all things Lance, there really is no simple answer. Not on the surface anyway.

Armstrong, for all his purported emphasis on leading a simple life and just being a guy who enjoys riding his bike, is now such a complex phenomenon that it is difficult to draw any accurate conclusions about him. This is partially because it is no longer just him. There is a a collective army of people behind him- some who have been there since the start and many, many others who have since jumped on the bandwagon that just keeps growing.

Giro Stage 20 Lance leads the chase on a climb with Danilo Di Luca
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti  

There are huge sponsorship deals, numerous organisations, partnerships with presidents and politics, and all sorts of other ventures. Although he remains the face and soul of the 'Lance movement', things have now reached a point where he is actually a very small part of a conglomerate that is indeed much larger than one guy riding his bike. The tentacles are reaching far and wide with no sign, as yet, of this global sprawl ceasing.

Armstrong negotiates a corner over the wet and slick Roma pave.
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The growth continues...
This ever-burgeoning wave of euphoria or deception (according to your opinions) is now so deep and multifaceted it could be argued that it as outgrown cycling. Armstrong is the first rider to transcend the world of cycling and take with him his story, wealth, influence, and fame to a new audience that had previously not known or cared too much about cycling. This, the UCI says, is a positive thing for the sport. However it could be argued that the sport's governing body has itself been out-muscled by Armstrong. It has been reported for several years now that Armstrong is the the only rider making active financial contributions to the UCI. The nature and numbers involved in these dealings have been kept confidential for obvious reasons.

Lance Armstrong on the stage 17 climb of the Blockhaus in the Giro d'Italia - like most of the riders, he showed the effort on his face. Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti


This has several ramifications with the most notable being that the UCI have bent their own rules on occasions to accommodate him. Want examples from this year alone? How about being allowed to start the Tour Down Under despite not meeting the requirements of being in the drug testing pool for the required six months prior to racing. There have also been reports of drug tests being put on hold while Armstrong has showered after a race. Even stories about UCI chaperones being treated to a drink in a bar for up to 45 minutes before taking Astana riders for testing.*
* See the UCI response to the AFLD claims.

So, with money comes power and it becomes a little clearer to see how Armstrong is the most powerful figure in cycling- more so than the sport's President and head of the UCI, Pat McQuaid. Armstrong has more money, more influence and a stronger team behind him than any single person within the UCI for that matter. This effectively means that publicly, the UCI are big Armstrong fans. As much as the Texan can influence their decisions however, they also realize that there is unlimited potential to sell the Armstrong story and use him to capture new markets and reach new horizons not previously possible. What other riders have active connections with US presidents, bring Hollywood stars to races, have been in relationships with celebrities, and start whole new trends so millions upon millions of people start wearing rubber wrist bands to support charities?

Armstrong finishes in front of throngs of LIVESTRONG fans clad in yellow in Rome. A 12th on the G.C.  Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter

closer to home, USA cycling is at an all-time high. A synopsis reveals that cycling in America is indeed surfing on the back of the wave that was in large created by the Armstrong brand. Membership rates and racing license numbers have increased. The Tour of California is gaining huge momentum and next year moves to its new May slot to directly compete with the much more established Giro d'Italia. Speaking of which, there is even talk of Washington D.C. hosting two stages of the great Italian race as early as 2012.

One-day racing is attracting big teams who are sending their big riders. Next year there will be three top level teams registered in the USA; Garmin-Transitions, RadioShack, and Columbia-HTC. And of course the domestic scene is of an extremely high pedigree. This trend is only bucked by the (hopefully) temporary demise of the Tour of Georgia and the flirting with death that the Tour of Missouri has done this past year. Whilst all of this cannot be directly attributed to the 'Armstrong effect', it is difficult to see how it would have all been possible in the pre-Armstrong days. This further serves to illustrate how it is in the interests of the USA cycling federation and UCI to befriend Armstrong.

Is Gianni Savio trying to recruit Lance for his team at the end of the tour stage 16?
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti  

Continued in Part 2

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