On September 9, 2008 Lance Armstrong posted a shaky, low-quality home movie on his website.

With just his stubbled face in shot he issued a pretty informal statement: “Hey everybody. I know there have been a lot of reports in the media today about a possible return to racing. I just wanted to let you know that after long talks with my kids, the rest of my family, a close group of friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in 2009.”

After three years away when he had done little more than feature in gossip columns, date celebrities and hang out with movie stars, Armstrong had decided to come back to the sport that he had left when on top.

His official reason for returning was the fight against cancer. He announced that he would hold major ‘cancer summits’ wherever his schedule took him, including in Paris after the 2009 Tour de France. He said he wanted to promote his cause across the world, spreading the message via the medium of bike racing.

But anybody who remembered the Armstrong of three years earlier knew this wasn’t a guy who would be happy just pootling around chatting about disease. After Carlos Sastre won the Tour in 2008 Armstrong had dismissed the Spaniard’s win (something he later apologised for) and claimed in private that, from looking at the numbers, he could still win the Tour. He wanted an eighth yellow jersey.

Lance Armstrong Tour Down Under stage 2 2009

Roller-coaster

Nothing with Armstrong is straightforward and in the months that followed there was intense media speculation.

A highly-publicised and comprehensive anti-doping regime with respected expert Don Catlin ended up being quietly cancelled, deemed too expensive and unnecessary before it had even got started.

There was a promise of a more open relationship with the press, which won over some former foes – even in the French media – but it didn’t last. The unedifying spectacle of Armstrong lambasting Sunday Times journalist Paul Kimmage at the Tour of California press conference was proof of that.

There was the statement that Armstrong was riding for Astana for free, simply appreciating the opportunity to spread the anti-cancer message. When it was revealed that he had in fact been paid a wage he then said it was donated to charity. He also received appearance fees from race organisers at some events, such as a reported US$2 million from the Tour Down Under.

In the middle of this there were dates with premiers and presidents, all of whom seemed eager to be seen listening to Armstrong’s anti-cancer statements. The great unwashed fell under his spell too, with Armstrong’s (not so) spontaneous Twitter rides in Belfast, Glasgow and Adelaide drawing thousands of cyclists to join him.

At an Astana training camp in late 2008 the world had its first sighting of the new racing version of Lance Armstrong – a broad-shouldered, muscular man rather than the ultra-lean, hollow-cheeked figure that ruled the peloton in his prime. As the 2009 season developed he gradually returned to shape.

Starting his comeback at the Tour Down Under in January, Armstrong put in a solid ride to finish 29th overall. In February he looked lighter and stronger at the Tour of California where he came seventh. In March he took part in Milan-San Remo, finishing 125th.

Lance Armstrong Castilla y Leon 2009

Collarbone setback

Two days later, though, progress was checked. Twenty kilometres from the end of the Tour of Castilla y Leon’s opening stage Armstrong crashed and broke his collarbone – the first time he had succumbed to this most common of cycling injuries in his career.

Incredibly, just six weeks later he was on the Giro d’Italia start line in Venice. The world was eager to see what shape he was in, and the answer was: not bad. Armstrong grew stronger as the race went on and was even launching attacks of his own in the final-week mountains. He eventually finished 11th overall.

Strong Giro aside it was clear physical ability alone wasn’t going to be enough for Armstrong at the Tour. He and Astana team boss Johan Bruyneel would need to use every tactical trick in the book – and they did.

After a decent prologue performance that left him in 10th place, Armstrong used his instinct to be in the right place at the right time on stage three to La Grande Motte. A combination of a rampant Columbia team and a fierce crosswind caused the peloton to split. Armstrong was in the front group; his team leader Alberto Contador was not.

Armstrong’s true intentions became clear as he took his turn in driving the group and ordered the team-mates with him to do the same, as Contador languished behind. He was not going to work ‘for the strongest rider’ as he had previously claimed. He was out for number one.

The team time trial followed the next day and saw a rare moment of unity with Astana winning the stage. Armstrong came to within 22 hundredths of a second of pulling on the yellow jersey. He would never again get so close.

Lance Armstrong finishes, Tour de France 2009, stage 15

Plan abandoned

The split in the team went beyond mending on stage seven to Arcalis. With Armstrong poised to take yellow and hence control of the team, Contador went on the attack. “That was not a part of the plan,” Armstrong scowled as he slipped behind Contador in the GC, “but I didn’t expect him to follow the plan anyway.”

From then on, Contador was on his own. With team boss Bruyneel in Armstrong’s pocket Contador was shut out.

The Spaniard became an isolated figure in the Astana team, often travelling with his brother and manager Fran to and from stage starts rather than in the team bus, and getting second-rate help on the road. Bruyneel avoided Contador’s press conferences but still had the gall to say he was only doing it so as not to steal the Spaniard’s limelight.

The final indignity for Contador was when he was left in a hotel foyer in Annecy before the final time trial as team cars had gone to the airport to pick up Armstrong’s friends. The same day that Armstrong and Bruyneel announced the RadioShack deal for 2010 and beyond.

By the time the race reached Paris Armstrong had secured third place overall, but he had never truly challenged either Contador or Andy Schleck. Perhaps more importantly he had already confirmed he would be back in 2010, and this time with a team built around him.

Shack attack

Armstrong started his 2010 campaign at the Tour Down Under again. It was a solid start to the season, but things gradually began to deteriorate.

First his team was denied a place at the Giro d’Italia, then, at the Tour of California, where strong home support was expected, Armstrong was hit with the most serious allegations yet.

Floyd Landis, his former team-mate, had given ESPN’s Bonnie Ford a confessional-style interview in which he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs for most of his career and implicated Lance Armstrong and many other athletes and team managers. He had provided the World Anti-Doping Agency, and US Cycling, with all the details.

Landis, who admitted to being disgusted at watching Armstrong bask in further glory, claimed there had been a systematic doping programme within the US Postal squad during Armstrong’s glory years. Landis, already discredited for his positive testosterone test at the 2006 Tour, appeared to have nothing to lose.

If Armstrong was unhappy, this was just the beginning. He crashed out of that day’s stage and quickly left the race and America’s media, who had made a beeline for the race.

Worse news for Armstrong was to come. Landis’s allegations were being investigated by Jeff Novitzky, an agent for the Food and Drug Administration who previously led the BALCO case that put Marion Jones in prison. Armstrong and co stood accused of using US government funds – their US Postal sponsorship money – to fund illegal drug use and commit sporting fraud.

This time there was to be no brushing under the carpet by cycling’s impotent regulatory bodies – if Landis’s accusations were proved right, Armstrong was staring into the abyss.

Lance Armstrong and RadioShack, Tour de France 2010, team presentation, Rotterdam, 1 July 2010

Fighting on

As usual, such frustrations seemed to spur Armstrong on, and the run-up to what would be his last Tour de France was impressive. He finished third at the Tour of Luxembourg and then second at the Tour of Switzerland.

But as the Tour began in Rotterdam, and the focus on Armstrong was ramped up a notch, it was the Landis story that kept hitting the headlines. Under that shadow Armstrong’s dream of one last Tour win became a nightmare.

It started well enough: fourth in the prologue, five seconds quicker than Alberto Contador, was Armstrong’s best time trial display since returning to the sport. But on stage three Armstrong suffered a puncture on northern France’s infamous cobbles and lost two minutes to most of his overall rivals.

Lance Armstrong, Tour de France 2010, stage 3

Tour hopes dashed

But that was a minor blip in comparison to stage eight – the 2010 Tour’s first real day in the mountains – where his hopes were entirely dashed. He suffered two crashes and was held up by a third. He lost more than 12 minutes and the dream was over.

Armstrong rolled round for the remaining two weeks, putting in a fiery display on day 16 over the Pyrenees to Pau, but at the finish he was easily beaten in the sprint. As he said in 2004, “Pas de cadeaux.”

He eventually finished in Paris in 23rd place, almost 40 minutes down on Contador.

After the Tour, Armstrong kept up his high-profile charity events and public appearances. The plan was to compete for the first half of the 2011 season and officially retire at the Tour of California.

But in the end he decided to call it quits after the Tour Down Under. Armstrong had arrived in Adelaide looking out of shape and eventually left the sport with nothing more than a whimper.

With the FDA investigation reportedly meeting with more cooperation than resistance Armstrong appeared to have lost his fight. His attempts to discredit Novitzky – his only tactic when it comes to his ‘enemies’ – looked ever more desperate, and his decision to come back to the sport ever more misguided.

Lance Armstrong, Tour de France 2010, stage 20

THE COMEBACK YEARS



2009

Race Date Days racing Position
Tour Down Under Jan 20-25 6 29
Tour of California Feb 14-22 9 7
Milan san Remo Mar 21 1 125
Castilla y Leon Mar 23 0 DNF
Giro d’Italia May 9-31 21 11
Tour de France July 4-26 21 3
Tour of Ireland Aug 21-23 2 DNF stage 3

2010

Race Date Days racing Position
Tour Down Under Jan 19-24 6 24
Tour of Murcia Mar 3-7 5 7
Criterium Int Mar 27-28 2 45
Tour of Flanders April 4 1 27
Tour of California May 16-20 4 DNF stage 5
Tour of Luxembourg June 2-6 5 3
Tour of Switzerland June 12-20 9 2
Tour de France July 3-25 21 23

2011

Race Date Days racing Position
Tour Down Under Jan 18-23 6 67


THE FUTURE: HAS LANCE ARMSTRONG LOST HIS APPEAL?



When Lance Armstrong left cycling in 2005 it wasn’t long before his team, Discovery Channel, followed suit.

Despite having Alberto Contador on its books, and despite Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel launching a concerted campaign to attract a replacement sponsor, once the Discovery Channel money dried up everybody went their separate ways. There is little doubt that the RadioShack squad will follow a similar fate at the end of this season.

Perhaps the biggest blow is losing young American star Taylor Phinney from Armstrong’s Trek-Livestrong U23 squad to BMC – which, coincidentally, is led by Armstrong’s good friend Jim Ochowicz. Meanwhile, in a sign it’s not exactly building for the future, RadioShack has recently hired Robbies Hunter (aged 33) and McEwen (38), with the squad’s other big names – Levi Leipheimer (37), Andreas Klöden (35), Haimar Zubeldia (33) and Yaroslav Popovych (31) – hardly future stars either.

But while bike team sponsors come and go, what many thought would stay constant is Armstrong’s personal attraction as a brand endorser. According to a report in Advertising Age, Armstrong’s RadioShack promotions were only just beaten to the ‘Most Ineffective Campaign’ crown by Tiger Woods’s Nike ads. To be fair, Ad Age said all celebrity endorsements are largely a waste of time, but to be ranked alongside Wood is fairly damning.

This article originally appeared in Cycling Weekly magazine, March 3 2011 issue

Related links



Lance Armstrong: Rider Profile

  • JOHN EVANS

    Lance Armstrong is a true sporting hero on any level. I’m sick and tired of of the press (mainstream and sporting), desperately trying to drag him into the gutter. Tour de France winner,cancer survivor and the inspiration behind a major health promoting charity . Who among you is fit to tie his shoes?

  • Jamie

    I’ve followed CW for years, great mag but to be fair its never really been a fan of LA.
    I think it COMPLETELY NIAVE to think LA is any different from any other rider in the peleton apart from the fact he has helped in a positive way put cycling into peoples minds….do people really think it is only winners that are junkies….please!! Whether he is clean or not, I believe in what LA stands for and has done….he has beat clean and unclean riders and come out tops…accept it. Cycling like most sports wasn’t clean and probably never will be totally clean because behind all sports are peopl and behaind them is money, and there lies the problem.

  • Tony

    “He eventually finished in Paris in 23rd place, almost 40 minutes down on Contador.”

    Funny thing is, Armstrong finished ahead of Wiggins :-)

  • Jon

    The apparent cynicism of the article, as most readers are no doubt aware, is due to Lance’s extensive and prolonged manipulation of the truth in an effort to keep a lid on any revelation of his doping.

    We’re all sick of it and I for one am glad he’s not going to be riding any more. If he had had the balls to admit to having doped, drawn a line under it and moved on I would have respected that.

    He’s a great cyclist and if all the other stuff hadn’t gone on I’m sure the tone of this article would have been entirely different, but he and people like him are keeping this sport in a place it should have moved on from 10 years ago. If cheats prosper in cycling then great riders get pushed off the podium and it all comes down to how much you are prepared to abuse your body and what you can get away with.

  • Andrew Becker

    Lance Armstrong survived cancer.

    Pinocchio Armstrong the cyclist, cheated, lied, bullied, threatened & perpetuated a myth that is fake.
    He came back to cycling to prove he was clean, and his efforts showed his true level.

    Lance Armstrong. Pure Fiction.

  • suspendcycle

    I write this nor a believer or a non-believer but I really just want him to go away… I just want to get on with cycling. Every time he opens his mouth there is another lie… I don’t really care what he has to say or what he’s done for charity I just want cycling to be cycling again… enough of the “too much good for too many people” business. Cycling please. My sport. Not Lance’s. Please. Enough.

  • don kybhoy

    good riddance to the worst athlete ever to get on a bike. his so called love and wins in the sport of cycling always came through a pill, blood bag or other PED.

    wishing they throw the book at him and his full fraud and cheating is revealed.

  • Iker Baqueiro

    No, we cannot stop writing about Lance Armstrong, AKA Pharmastrong, until he is found guilty and goes to jail like Marion Jones.

  • Keith B

    A synically written article I would expect to find in something like the Daily Mail not Cycling Weekly. It reads like a cheap shot at selling more copy rather than giving a balanced view.

  • Coleen O’Hara

    “Please note that we review all comments before they will appear on our site”. That’s probably why so few people make comments on non-objective articles written anonimously. Cycling Weekly is waste of time. But not any more.

  • Rob Hepworth

    Whoever put this article together, don’t be so sour. Armstrong is a competitior…he’s not a fan of riding to come second…who is? Fair enough, he wasn’t in the shape of his life the last year but he beat an awful lot of ‘full time pros’ racing…many half his age. He wants to fight the thing that very nearly killed him, why not. No wonder he gets angry with journalists when they write this kind of article. 7 Tours, World Champ and a host of other races, fighting a good cause…not a bad go at things. I think the author should go for a ride and think about life.

  • Martin

    I believed in LA once but, the more I read and the more others investigated, the more I realised that the only reason people believe Lance rode clean is because he’s Lance Armstrong and that makes a lot of people suspend their disbelief – wrongly.

    The power of the LA brand/story/mystique is such that people are happy to overlook the facts like everyone he beat so convincingly testing positive and those strange financial ‘contributions’ he’s made to the very people who run the tests where he never came out positive.

    Right now I feel cheated for ever having believed in him.

    Good riddance. Now can we please stop writing about him?

  • Simon

    I was really disappointed the cynical artical that was printed in this weeks Cycling Weekly. 3rd in the 2009 Tour and 23rd (from 170 finishers) in 2010 and despite a lot of bad luck on the cobbles, can hardly be a poor comeback.
    Can you imagine the fuss CW would make if a British rider actually made it on to the podium in the overall tour results. We would then be subjected to 2 years of said person on the cover of CW everyweek, take in to account the good results in the Giro and other races I see your comments as unjustified. and feel you are already riding on the wave of ‘The Downfall of Lance Armstrong’ and cannot wait until his clean image is tarnished.
    I personally hope this never happens as it will be a massive blow to the whole image of a man who solehandidly introduced Cycling in to the mainstream. We should be congratulating and Thanking Lance for what he has achieved, not wishing for his down fall.

  • theswordsman

    I’m rooting for Novitsky and truth. But, sadly, Lance’s position at the 2009 Giro is now tenth, as CAS punished Pellizotti for making them rush by stripping his results from the 12 months before his Passport sanction. He could move up to ninth if something similar happens to Valjavec this month.