As the old saying goes, he is 'the big wheel'...in this case, the big cycling wheel that spins on and on and on. Lance Armstrong, never quite out of the spotlight, completed the preliminaries of his startling comeback today. The 24/7 nature of the modern CNN/Fox/ESPN news cycle assures us of more Lance Armstrong news over the next year than even Brett Favre spots.
Even though he retired after winning 7 Tour de France titles, Lance Armstrong never retired from the bright lights. He dated any number of the world's more famous women. He became a 'spokes'man of cancer awareness, a surefire way to gain support....push for animal welfare, Jerry's kids, and cancer awareness and you cannot go wrong. However, here is a positive view of the Armstrong idealism.
Fans love the cancer survival story, and indeed it is a great one. However the cycling story is not quite so stellar. Armstrong mounted an impressive mid-career push to become the best. He cavorted with the infamous dope peddler, Dr. Michele Ferrari. And he retired at a time when the entire peloton doped to the max, before anti-doping testing matured to the point it has now.
It must be incredibly difficult for an athlete with galactic adulation from 1999 to 2005 to retire. Now there are several issues with the Armstrong comeback:
1. Armstrong will ride with Astana, home of 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (from the New York Times today)
“If I’m not the strongest guy on the team, then I’m the domestique,” Armstrong said, somewhat tentatively.
Good luck to that. In 1986, the five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault promised to serve as a domestique to an up-and-coming American, Greg Lemond. On the crucial ascent on the Alpe d’Huez, Lemond looked over his shoulder and saw the gritted-teeth smile of Hinault, whose nickname was the Badger. Hinault shrugged, as if to say, well, what did you expect, I am the Badger. Lemond held him off and won the Tour — but probably still has nightmares about Hinault. Armstrong, bless his heart, could induce a nightmare just by musing about being somebody’s domestique.
2. Armstrong, dogged by doping accusations feels compelled to hire the best in the business to monitor his blood parameters (from the NY Daily News):
Armstrong confirmed that he will ride in the Tour de France for the Kazakh team Astana and claimed he will be "totally validated" by an aggressive screening program to be designed by world-renowned anti-doping scientist Don Catlin.
But Catlin, whose chemical sleuthing helped crack the BALCO doping ring in 2003, said "there are no guarantees," and conceded that the program he is establishing to monitor Armstrong will do nothing to clear the suspicions that linger over the cyclist's past accomplishments.
"I think it's going to be as airtight as I can possibly make it," Catlin told the Daily News. "Anybody who tries to beat it will be a fool."
Catlin said results of Armstrong's blood and urine tests would be posted online, and the urine would be frozen and stored for future re-testing. He said Armstrong's representatives approached him about the plan in the last two weeks, following Armstrong's announcement that he will return after three years of retirement.
Armstrong will pay Catlin for the work, but dismissed the concerns of "conspiracy theorists" who see a conflict of interest in that.
"There's not enough money anywhere to potentially buy out Don Catlin," said Armstrong. "For the conspiracy theorists out there that might think that, I would refer them to Don Catlin."
Armstrong spoke to the celebrity-laden crowd in New York today:
Armstrong was discussing his comeback Wednesday in New York, at the Clinton Global Initiative, the nonpolitical conference about the world’s problems. He linked his return for five races next season with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which fights cancer.
He portrayed his comeback as more than the ego of an aging athlete who missed the spotlight, saying that he would race in nations that need either praise or prodding for their approach to cancer. Armstrong plans to race next January in Australia; he did not mind saying that Australia does not do enough to combat melanoma, a form of cancer prevalent in that sunny part of the world.
Armstrong told an audience that included two former presidents, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, and former Vice President Al Gore — as well as Muhammad Ali — that cancer patients should not think of themselves as victims.
Armstrong is a force for hope in the battle against a disease that will kill 8 million people this year. More than 50 million yellow Livestrong wrist bracelets have been distributed around the world, signifying donations to the foundation. And now Armstrong says he wants to ride for all the people.
Not one to hide his light under a basket, as Paula Duffy enumerates:
But there is a twist to this story that is of some note. To support Armstrong's contention that he will be clean and free of any banned substances, the team has hired Don Catlin, a noted anti-doping expert. Catlin has credentials that no one can question but there's just one hitch in all this.
He will be an employee of Armstrong's team. Armstrong believes that Catlin is beyond reproach and Pat McQuaid who heads up the sports governing body has no problem with it. Both those men seem to believe there would be no circumstances underwhich Catlin wouldn't do the right thing, even if it means outing Armstrong. Might I suggest that it takes incredible fortitude and honor not to be influenced by the marketing juggernaut that is the Armstrong cancer awareness cause? Human beings are fallible and we have seen men and women in public life fail us after we have trusted them to tell us the truth. Everyone has his price, we all know that.
I am not predicting any cheating and I absolutely do not mean to say that Catlin and Astana have exchanged winks and nods on the topic of transparency. I'm just pointing out to Mr. Armstrong that if he really wanted to give the world some reason to believe he won't get any assistance from banned substances, he might have taken a different route.
For example, hundreds of blood samples taken from Australian athletes at the recent Beijing Olympics are being stored for study in the next decade. As a member of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority said, an athlete might be able to evade present-day tests for new substances, but these samples will be kept for eight years under the presumption that testing catches up a bit late with cheating.
But hey, then Armstrong wouldn't be able to make Mr. Catlin part of his marketing campaign this summer.The cyclist's test results will be posted on the Internet. What a world.
Lance Armstrong has become very good at marketing Lance Armstrong. He is a lightning rod for major issues of the day: doping, cancer awareness, sports marketing, and even politics.