Why cycling still owes Armstrong a great thanks
I was trying to avoid thinking about Lance Armstrong these last few days let alone write about him, but in this age of universal condemnation towards the guy, I was wondering a little about his legacy.
One thing is for sure and that is that he will forever be known as a drug cheat.
However, from a broader perspective I wondered if the fact that cycling was seeming on such a steep upward trajectory in Australia in terms of popularity was also down to him too.
Logic would suggest that Cadel Evans and his victory in the Tour were of greater significance, but I wonder if that was just a fillip to the Lance effect. The same goes for the impact that Bradley Wiggins has had in the UK. People talk about the boom in cycling being a very recent phenomenon, but it didn’t come from nowhere.
I say this from the personal experience of running bike tours in Europe for the last 15 years and guiding folk from predominantly the US but also Australian and the UK.
Without a doubt there was a spike in demand when Armstrong came on the scene and this continued to grow exponentially the more he won. I can name three bike tour companies that exist today on the back of just following Lance in the Tour, for example.
The same goes with those who follow the Pro Tour and particularly the Le Tour. It has only been in recent years that the SBS coverage of Le Tour has become a staple conversation subject at the office for example.
Fifteen years ago I can hardly ever recall chatting to anyone who wasn’t a regular road cyclist about the latest news from the Tour, and yet I go into the office now when the Tour is on and folk who hardly ever even ride a bike are keen to chat about it.
My feeling is that it was Lance that got the ball rolling and indeed whilst a lot of the pros are now critical of Lance, with good reason, what isn’t so widely reported is the number who are grateful to him for the money that his presence brought to the sport.
And why did this money come flooding into the sport? I’d contend that it was because Lance introduced cycling to the masses and in turn opened up a plethora of commercial opportunities for sponsors etc.
So do I think Lance is being unfairly vilified for his drug use? Not at all, and I have made a conscious effort not to watch his ‘confession’ as I’d prefer to forget him to be honest.
But when we look at the health our sport is in in terms of the number of people who have become cycling obsessed in recent years – the new golf and all that – I think it is important not to whitewash the Armstrong legacy.
Yes, the likes of Cadel and Wiggo have played a significant role, but I can’t help thinking that the boom in cycling was started before their time and the person who played by the biggest role was Lance.
I imagine many of you will think I’m stating the obvious here but I’m keen to get others’ views on it. Yes, the Lance legacy will be ostensibly linked to drugs and he has cast doubt over the sport in a totally unprecedented way.
However, I don’t see people abandoning the sport, but rather judging by the numbers signing up to go on bike tours to visit the Tour and spending far too much money on Rapha gear from a spectator perspective, the sport is going great guns.