Lance Armstrong is easily the most well known athletes in the world, to cyclist and to non-cyclist alike. He “won” a record seven Tour De Frances, changed sponsorship in America for the sport, and truly made it more of a mainstream sport to participate in for Americans. So yes in the beginning Lance created a very good thing for cycling. Over the years speculation of the methods he used to get good started to surface. Many laymen just couldn’t believe he could do all that he had done without using performance enhancing drugs. People started questioning all cyclists from the junior level to the top tour pro. Seriously, I couldn’t talk to people about the sport I love to do, without being asked about Lances doping and doping in general. Some big questions I ask myself are; would the Trek Madone be as popular without Lance, would Trek in general be as big? Would Nike have a place in cycling apparel in anyway without Lance? How has his coming out affected my sport. To be honest I pretty much always knew Lance was doping. I was never a big fan simply because I felt he was lying to his fans and that he had such a bigger than the world attitude and had such an arrogant nature about himself. I told many people I would never be a Lance fan until he comes out with the truth, apologizes to several people and fans, and feels some sort of repentance about what he has done to so many people. It was plainly obvious to have so many other riders, from his very teams, during that generation, that were getting caught and confessing there guilt. A few years back when Big George said he had something to say, I knew it would all come clean shortly after George Hincapie’s retirement.
What does the average junior cyclist think about the sport? Let’s leave Lance out of this whole thing and see who the kids are following. From my coaching perspective, I feel as if kids look up to their local hero. They look up to their dad’s and the local guy that is killing it at the local races. That is who they see and who they learn from directly. In my opinion a young cyclist is in the presence of the local pro/cat 1, 2 racer and sets their first goals on them and not on a Lance Armstrong which whom they may or may not ever meet. As of right now in this moment these kids would rather hang with the fast sixteen year old up the street to watch a Lance interview on TV. I personal have added junior cyclist to my coaching programs and have never even heard one of them mention this whole subject. USA cycling’s Internal Communications Manager, Keri Kahan, says that the numbers of junior race licenses are up and the numbers are growing. “The future looks very bright for our young American cyclists. Our next generations of top cyclists have already shown their commitment to clean competition and fair play.” The licensed membership for USA Cycling climbed between 2004 and 2011, to almost 71,000. In those same years, races expanded 42 percent to 3,026 and the number of racing clubs climbed 79 percent to 2,569, according to USA Cycling’s 2011 reporting.
From a coaching perspective, I am still out on this subject. Overall it can’t be a good thing with all the bad publicity. People already had a negative connotation towards cycling as a competitive sport. I will never condone cheating and hurting the human body with illegal substances. I could never suggest that bending or stretching the rules could help any person in the sport or in life in general. It truly hurt me to hear other grown men and women say that “it is just part of the sport”, “everyone else is doing it”, “prove to me that it’s a bad thing”, and “if they what to keep bread on the table they have to do what they have to do”. Hearing those comments from cyclist and even competitive cyclist is appalling. I think the worse one I may have ever heard was “the baseball players do it, so what’s the big deal”. To me that says that people don’t shy away from cheating and that fair sport is uncommon throughout all competition. That takes me back to the saying if a no one know a rule is being broken is it really a rule. I hope and pray that I am not a minority when I say that it is ludicrous to have that opinion. Drunk driving is drunk driving and people will eventually get hurt or killed, just like cheating in sport will eventually catch up to the athlete and could potentially hurt them. Look at all those baseball players and track stars. My client numbers are up a bit since Lance decided to tell the truth. Maybe that is a sign that people are more willing to participate in a sport now that the air has lifted.
Finally has Lance hurt the retail environment for your local bike shop (LBS)? Has Lance hurt sponsorship levels of cycling on all levels? Is a small business more likely to help out a small race team now or would they rather wash there hands and not associate their business with the sport? Todd Kaib, one of the countries top retailers and owner of Roswell Bicycles said that, “The Lance confession has not yet had a direct impact on our business locally. I do expect that there will be a faltering of business in the more competitive bikes in the future; however, he certainly helped grow the performance market dramatically while he was racing and helped us post numbers that would have not been achievable without his success in racing and cancer awareness.” He went further on to say he has “already seen the struggle of sponsorship on the highest levels and believe that there will be a trickle down affect in all elite road events until the stigma goes away.” Maybe the question is did Lance’s success out weigh the downs of his recent confession? The jury is still out from the retail stand point. Maybe enough fans found other riders to follow, enjoy the sport, and could care less either way to think one man has a seriously impact in the sport. I think the biggest impact will be on sponsorship levels of race events, elite teams, and charitable rides. The companies that would sponsor will continue to sponsor, but it is all that much harder to bring in a new outside interest to the sport. I really don’t understand it. Other sports have all kinds of issues with performance enhancing drugs and out of control athletes; yet they still can win sponsorships by the boat loads.
In the end I believe that Lance’s larger than life mass appeal helped and hurt the sport of cycling. He attracted thousands if not millions of people to the sport. The economic impact is almost unimaginable the numbers of revenue dollars he brought to so many coaches, retailers, and outside companies. I pray that the kids will now look at him and use his life as an example to not live by and to use it as a learning experience into how things should be done. I also hope that they will see that it pays to be humble in spirit to tell the truth. After all; other cyclist, caught up in this, confessed early and received light penalties, but since Lance continued to lie, he got the book tossed at him. I also would hope that adults will look at this as time to forgive and forget. After all, we all now know he is only a man.
The Lead Pack Cycling Group