Counterpoint – Lance should not come back

September 12, 2008

“Son, your ego is writing checks that your body can’t cash” Top Gun (1986)

I originally was thinking of starting this post with a “Jim, you ignorant….” but I would be dating myself.  Yesterday, I gave you some of the thoughts rattling around as to why I think Lance Armstrong coming back is a good idea.  Now I’ll tell you why I think it is a bad one.

1) You had the perfect exit. What a story, kick cancer then comeback and take the next seven Tours de France.  Set the record, then one more to put it out of reach, then ride off into the sunset.  In those westerns, the cowboy riding off into the sunset did not turn around at the horizon and say “I think I’ll stay around for a while longer.”  No, they left the town thankful and the women wondering what could have been.  That’s where we are, thanks for saving the sport and yes, you could have won eight, nine, or even a tenth Tour. But you rode out on top.

2) You are about to turn 37. The oldest winner of the Tour was 1922 winner, Firmin Lambot at 36.

3) You are putting your legacy in jeopardy. Two words, Michael Jordan.  The greatest basketball player ever retired on top then returned.  When he came back, he was not the athlete he once was.  Sports history is littered with athletes who hung on too long.  It is sad when a great athlete has to leave by the back door, not the front.

4) There is little upside. If you comeback and win number eight, do you look end up looking greedy?  If you don’t win, do you open the door to speculation that you were never as good as we once thought you were.  Will you give your critics ammunition that sullies your legacy?  I’ll stay away from the potential to draw more attention to your cancer fight because I don’t know the answer if this will increase awareness greater than any other activity you could take up such as running for office.

5) You are about to turn 37.  Of the five time winners, the oldest was Bernard Hinault just short of 31. Of the three time winners, the oldest was Louis Bobet who was 30 in 1955.  You may have defied gravity in the Alps and Pyranees.  Can you defy time?


Point – Lance should come back

September 11, 2008

When I heard the news, my visceral reaction was “Lance, say it ain’t so.”  You orchestrated one of the best exits in sports history.  Don’t ruin it. Then, I thought about.   Friends both cycling fans and not were asking me what I thought.  Depending on when I answered, I was for it or against it. In New York, seeing people having animated conversations with themselves is no big deal, I figured I would let you in on what goes on inside my mind.  Well at least the cycling part.

This post will list the reasons why Lance should return.  Some reasons are fact based, most are emotion based.  Either way, they make sense to me.  The guy who talks to himself.

1) Lance needs to. As his body of work fades, Lance was expected to transition into a tireless cancer fighter.  One with possible political aspirations.  While Lance has stayed true to his cause to advance the cancer advocacy movement through his eponymous foundation, that type of spotlight is hard to keep bright.  Quite frankly, the subject is not one that makes it to the front page, above the fold.  With a nation that leans towards schadenfreude as opposed to anything of substance, Lance’s personal life increasingly became the story.  That combined with Lance choosing to date celebrities exposed him to an infrastructure designed to create even more exposure to the person on his arm as opposed to the band on his wrist.

This began a troubling decent into the category of famous for being famous.  That is not a legacy worthy of Lance the athlete or Lance the cancer survivor.  I don’t know if Lance Armstrong still has more Sports Illustrated references than People Magazine.  There is still time before Lance ends up on Dancing with the Stars.

2) Cycling (the industry) needs him. Cycling, like many things, is an ecosystem.  Many people make their living off the sport.  Trek saw sales grow with each Tour de France win.  Based on figures from the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) and Bicycle Retailer, road bikes in general enjoyed a strong run from the beginning of this decade wile mountain bikes saw significant decline in market share.  High end/high margin bikes also saw significant growth where road bikes dominate the bike retail sector representing about a third of supplier sales. Front suspension bikes are a distant second.  In 2007, as the Lance effect wears off, road bikes, fell four percent in sales and units shipped.  I’m sure you saw similar growth and stagnation in the helmet, sunglasses, component markets.

Spiraling out from bikes and components, I’m sure folks like Graham Watson are feeling the downturn in the cycling economy.  Plus, I’m tired of bull riding having better ratings than cycling on Versus.

3) Cycling (the sport) needs him. Look at what has happened since Lance left the scene.  There has been sheer chaos making cycling the laughing stock of professional sports.  Starting with the ASO/UCI public squabble.  The poor PR surrounding the doping fight.  This is a sore spot.  Cycling has the most aggressive anti-doping program in the history of sports but can’t shake he image of a sport filled with cheats.  Who save cycling from the last look in the abyss after the Festina scandal?  That’s right, Lance.

There is precedent here.  Look to Apple computers.  Steve jobs started Apple, left then returned to restore a tarnished company to glory.  Why can’t Lance do the same for cycling?

4) He can still do it. Look at the three tours since Lance retired.  The races  winners were all beatable.  Winners may not be an appropriate term.  Survivors may be more like it.  No one showed anything that would convince me they could beat an age-diminished Lance Armstrong.

5) It would piss off the ASO.

It is about the bike

September 11, 2008

Unless you have been under a rock for the past 24 hours, you know that the ‘Boss’ is ending his retirement to take a shot at an eighth Tour de France. I guess one question is answered.  Chasing starlets is not as satisfying as chasing the Maillot Jaune. 

The next question is which team will both have Lance and will Lance have?  The logical first choice is to hook up with the other half of cycling’s most successful tandem, Johan Bruneel.  Not so fast.  Astana is not officially out of the ASO’s doghouse and given the chilly relationship between the Texan and the ASO, the latter may be tempted to extend Astana’s penance for another year.  So, if not Astana, who?  Well like all good novels, we need to wait for another couple of weeks.

I have mixed feelings about this.  Sports history is filled with athletes who tried and failed to capture their glory days.  In fact, most returns from retirements turn out to be an embarrassment for the athlete.  Then again, are there any odds that Lance has not beaten?  I’ll try to give you a point – counter point on the issue over the next few days.  What do you think?

Sastre leaves CSC-Saxo Bank

September 5, 2008

Team CSC-Saxo Bank is announcing on their website that after seven years, reigning Tour de France Champion Carlos Sastre will be leaving the team when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Carlos Sastre has been one of the most prominent profiles in the big stage races for a number of seasons culminating with his victory this year in the greatest of them all: Tour de France.

The Tour victory was the most important triumph in the team history and it is with great mutual respect and understanding that Sastre now announces his transfer to the newly formed Cervélo Test Team from next season.

With a strong, young stage racing team, CSC- Saxo Bank could not guarantee Sastre the leadership role in 2009.  According to individuals on the team, the split is very amicable.

Good Guys 1 Bad Guys 1

September 5, 2008

Over this past weekend, the heroes and villians fought to a draw.  In the US Championships, argyle clad Dave Zabriskie retained his status as this country’s best against the clock.

In the road race, good guy turned bad boy, Tyler Hamilton of Rock Racing took top honors.  Look at the bright side, a Stars and Stripes kit is quite a bit more palatable than the various incarnations of the Rock Racking kit.