Lance Armstrong was back in the saddle on the roads of the 2015 Tour de France this week, riding with the Le Tour One Day Ahead team to raise money to find a cure for leukemia.
The group, organized by leukemia survivor, Geoff Thomas, is a team of amateur cyclists that are riding the entire Tour de France course one day ahead of the actual race. They are riding with a support team, mechanics, and rolling road closures – and for two days this past week, Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong joined the group for stages 13 and stage 14 on a route winding through the Midi-Pyrénées from Muret to Rodez on the first day, and then on to Mende on day two.
No musette bags here
While the riders are tackling the same territory as the Tour de France 2015 cyclists, and in the same conditions, which for stage 14 meant temperatures reaching 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit), lunch wasn’t something pulled out the back of their jersey.
On the Rodez to Mende stage, the group stopped for a leisurely lunch in a beautiful village overlooking the Tarn River. Armstrong was relaxed as he chatted with the team during their early afternoon break.
Before mounting their bikes again for the remaining 67 km to be ridden in the scorching heat, Armstrong patiently posed for countless photos, answered a few questions from the journalists in attendance, then climbed on his bike, set his computer, and pedaled off to Mende.
Should Lance have ridden with the group?
Obviously, Lance joining the group on their ride was to increase awareness for the project that has a mission to raise £1m for Cure Leukaemia.
Armstrong’s participation ignited much commentary from the cycling community and beyond. UCI president, Brian Cookson, stated in March:
I’m sure that Geoff Thomas means well, but frankly, I think that’s completely inappropriate and disrespectful to the Tour, disrespectful to the current riders and disrespectful to the UCI and the anti-doping community.”
Before the Tour began, journalists were already attempting to add the Armstrong angle to their coverage. At the pre-race press conference in Utrecht, a journalist asked Chris Froome about Armstrong’s presence. Froome responded eloquently, stating that he supported Geoff Thomas’ goal to raise funds to fight a disease that had caused his mother’s death and then turned the conversation back to Team Sky’s participation in the race.
Even some of the teams have criticized Armstrong’s participation on social media.
So, should Lance have ridden with the group or was he, as Cookson stated, “disrespectful to the Tour?”
Should Lance be in France?
For those criticizing the promotional nature of Armstrong’s attendance – nearly every charity event has celebrities in attendance and markets their event heavily to raise funds.
Armstrong was Geoff Thomas’ inspiration to ride the 2005 Tour de France route ahead of the professionals. Thomas, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, conquered the TDF route soon after going into remission in 2005 and the achievement won Thomas an award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards and launched his efforts of raising funds for leukemia charities.
For Armstrong – sure it was a bit of a jab at the Tour and professional cycling. But, was participating in the charity ride wrong?
Although banned from professional cycling, or from even participating in a swim event or triathlon, Armstrong obviously has the right to hop on a bike and take a ride through the Pyrénées if he desires. Armstrong just happened to draw some media attention along the way with the timing of this one, bringing notice to a ride for charity that otherwise would not have had the New York Times and CNN report on it.
Ivan Basso’s departure from the Tour with testicular cancer just days before Armstong’s arrival also underscored just another reminder of the reason for the ride – to fight a horrible disease.
Was Lance a distraction to the Tour?
The Tour de France is an entourage of thousands of support personnel, journalists and cyclists moving throughout France for 21 days. It takes a lot to divert attention from the race.
For me personally, the daily press conference questioning of Chris Froome about doping suspicions actually brings back more memories of the late Lance days than a 43-year-old riding a bike on the roads of France with a few members of the media popping in for a photo or quote.
So, was Lance a distraction to the Tour? Armstrong’s choice of riding the transitional stages made it fairly easy to cover both. We managed to grab a few shots as the group road through Millau, stopped off at their lunch up the road, and then still got back to Rodez for the finish of stage 13.
As we drove into the Tour finish the next day in Mende, my thoughts were of Lance and the One Day Ahead group arriving the day before. Far from the throngs of fans on the Champs Élysées that awaited Armstrong at the end of his former France rides, this ride ended in a field on a hill above Mende with a team of Brits and little attention.
Isn’t it time we moved on?
In 1989, Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life for betting on the game. He’s now making commercials that poke fun at his exclusion from baseball’s Hall of Fame.
In a couple of decades, will Armstrong be on TV hawking a product while making jokes about not being able to run a tri?
Armstrong’s personality made, and continues to make, him a lightning rod. By his own account, he can be rude and has bullied people. He has an obvious distrust and dislike for the press, perhaps justifiably, and appears on edge when cameras are nearby and microphones are stuck in his face.
When we lived in Aspen from 2011-2013, Lance lived a few blocks away. There, we saw a different Armstrong – a relaxed guy that would run by on his daily jog with a casual wave to say hello.
Two different sides of the same guy in different circumstances – I would imagine there are even more.
Armstrong rode in an era of doping and he mastered the craft. It was a time, as he has stated, that doping was just like “air in the tires and water in the bottles.”
What he did was against the rules, was wrong, and was also done by nearly every cyclist riding in the peloton at the time.
He was also an exceptional cyclist and, in America, ignited a passion for the sport for millions of people who otherwise may never have become cycling fans. And, many of those people are also now riding bikes every day – a healthy activity – and for that, we must also remember the good that came out of the time.
It’s a rarity to meet anyone whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer. My father died of cancer in February. The One Day Ahead riders – and Lance for two days – are undertaking a huge task with the goal of raising money to fight a terrible disease. I prefer to say, bravo for their efforts, and just leave it at that. It’s time to move on.
If you would like to donate to Le Tour One Day Ahead, do so by visiting Geoff Thomas’ fundraising page.
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