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.