End of the Lance story at the TDU

John Thompson-Mills Columnist

By John Thompson-Mills, John Thompson-Mills is a Roar Expert

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    Lance Armstrong's legacy may be to rip world cycling apart as he continues to ignore doping allegations made by former US Postal teammates and staff (Image: AFP)

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    Tom-Jelte Slagter, Andre Greipel and Geraint Thomas may have dominated the Tour Down Under, but one other name was equally prominent, and he wasn’t even racing.

    The build-up and fall-out from Lance Armstrong’s “confession” took the focus off the TDU for most of the week leading up to race.

    Despite at times being nauseating to watch, it was a necessary process. The timing just sucked. But hopefully, thankfully, we’ve just heard the final words.

    Lance Armstrong will not be asked to pay back the $6m he was given by the South Australian Government to ride at the Tour Down Under between 2009 and 2011.

    Ever since SA Premier Jay Weatherill said he’d “be more than happy for Mr Armstrong to make repayment of monies to us (because) he’s a cheat and he’s deceived people,” talkback radio, social media and web forums have chattered away incessantly about the pros and cons.

    And while everyone knows the cons, I think the pros out-weigh them.

    So thank goodness new Sports and Tourism Minister has spoken definitively on the matter.

    This morning on ABC News, Mr Bignell, a former sports journo, who actually covered cycling for many years, simply said that the Government would not be asking for the money back because Armstrong had delivered what he was paid to do.

    “Lance took the Tour Down Under to another level, he put it on the international and Australian sporting calendar and what he did actually moved the Tour Down Under to another place and a much better place,” he said.

    And he was right.

    In the 2008, the Tour Down Under was granted Pro Tour/World Tour status which meant all the top teams had to send riders to Adelaide.

    Prior to that, the race was a mix of professional, continental and several composite national teams (eg: UniSA, United Water and SA.com/AIS). And while the standard was very good, it wasn’t quite ‘there’.

    A year later, Circus Lance rolled into town. There was an explosion of interest. International media more than doubled, media coverage went up around 500% international and interstate visitations doubled, and attendances were up nearly 40%.

    On the downside, the race organisation struggled to cope and the mood around TDU HQ became a little fractious, particularly with the onerous media attention and the whole “where is Lance staying” guessing game.

    The then Premier Mike Rann would have known because Armstrong could barely be photographed without a smiling Rann in the background. It was like Rann was inside the American’s lycra.

    Things abated a little in 2010, but increased again in 2011 when Armstrong was here for what would be the final time.

    But while all the Government hype was sometimes a little over bearing, it was great to experience it first-hand and it was seriously good for the Tour Down Under.

    Because for all the economic benefits Armstrong brought to the TDU, his presence, and subsequent praise was an endorsement that other top riders couldn’t ignore.

    And if you follow the Tour Down Under closely, you’ll know that the racing over the past four years has been exceptional.

    Of course, now we know what a cheat Armstrong was, but he was still a seriously good bike rider. The drugs just made him that little bit better.

    And while the stories were always there, he was coming out of retirement. So just as happened in 1999, many people were just caught up in the story. Those that weren’t were often sued into silence by Lance’s league of lawyers.

    So cycling has since copped a few huge knocks from falling pieces of Armstrong’s empire. But in truth, what’s new?

    There’s probably more in store now that the Spanish courts have got the infamous Dr Fuentes in the witness box for the Operacion Puerto trial.

    $6m is a lot of money in anyone’s language, but it pales into comparison with the positive effect Armstrong had on the Tour Down Under.

    I’m glad Leon Bignell clearly put the Government’s case, even if it somewhat contradicts his Premier’s comments from two weeks earlier.

    It should now be the end of the Armstrong story at the Tour Down Under.

    In turn that should mean we can enjoy the 2014 edition without even having to mention his name.

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