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Lance 3.0: Is Cycling Ready For The Return Of Armstrong

Up until recently his startling career was reduced to not much more than an asterisk, but it seems Lance Armstrong is making somewhat of a comeback.

I know it’s not possible right, I can hear you loud and clear. But the elephant in the room during the 2022 men’s and women’s Tour de France coverage would have to be the rider we thought time forgot. You know, the guy who claimed seven Tour de France yellow jerseys only to have each of them stripped prior to that infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Still a polarising subject in just about every peloton, his misdemeanours will never be forgotten; but is it time to acknowledge Lance Armstrong 3.0?

First up, let’s look back at Lance 1.0 and 2.0, a man who dominated the sport of cycling for close to two decades.

Turning pro after winning the US nationals in 1991, he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer in 1996. The cancer spread to his lymph nodes, lungs, brain and abdomen, yet he vowed to battle on and return to pro cycling. And return he did.

A screen grab of ‘The Move’. Hosted by Lance Armstrong, and with JB Hager and George Hincapie, it was one of the world’s top-rating sports podcasts during the Tour de France.

In 1997 he established the Livestrong Foundation and signed with US Postal who later became Discovery Channel.

In 1999 he won the Tour de France and continued those winning ways over the following six editions of the world’s biggest bike race. But the more he won, the louder the doping allegations became and the longer the interrogations went on.

Those ******* Tour Titles

In 2005 he won his 7th Tour title and subsequently retired. But anti-doping agencies and media were still onto him – particularly French outlet L’Equipe who reported blood samples from 1999 showed evidence of doping.

He came out of retirement in 2009, finished third at the Tour and famously rode the 2010 Tour Down Under in Adelaide.

By now the walls were closing in and in 2011 he retired (again) as more former team members admitted to historical doping.

In 2012, USADA released findings that showed he had used banned substances during his career. LA chose not to appeal, and in doing so all his career wins were wiped. His name was replaced with an asterisk on each of the seven Tour victories, along with every other pro race he’d ever ridden. The door had closed on Lance 2.0.

Making ’The Move’

But over the past few years, he has crept back onto the cycling scene. The main man of the popular podcast ‘The Move’, Lance has morphed into a respected host, commentator and analyst of the sport. His insights are fascinating, he has become quite self-deprecating, and his quips are highly entertaining.

Along with ‘good cop’ George Hincapie, middle man JB Hager and former Director Sportif Johan Bruyneel, the podcast is rich in depth and content and is subsequently rating like crazy.

It is ranked as one of the world’s Top 50 podcasts and during the Tour was among the world’s Top 5 sports podcasts. In 2019, Bloomberg reported its earnings were more than $1M over the three weeks of Le Tour; we suspect that figure has only gone skyward since.

So is Lance back ?

Statistics don’t lie and he sure is pulling in significant numbers which have an influence for brands and the riders and teams. In effect, they are endorsing him, or are they?

One of the fascinating things I’ve noticed is how he has managed to secure high-profile guests such as Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins to name but a few.

But as the numbers and engagement continue to grow, and Lance and crew become more mainstream and a significant part of cycling again, will the alliance become problematic for the brands that support him?

Or are the major industry players – and indeed the fans new and old – willing to be entertained and informed as they move on, forgive past wrongs, and ultimately forget.

In the media industry, as a general rule, numbers, influence and cashflow will always win the day. Judging by his popularity over the past month – and indeed the past few years – Lance 3.0 looks to be well and truly back … whether we agree or not.

See you on the road!


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