Paul Andrews

Lance and France

In Bicycle Racing, Bicycling on April 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

The saga of Lance Armstrong and this year’s Tour de France is threatening to turn into a cheap soap opera, with allegations flying over Lance’s muffed drug test recently.

It’s much ado about nothing, because France needs Lance more than the other way around. The Tour got really fat and really spoiled during the Armstrong years. TV coverage went off the charts, race sponsorships were plentiful and wealthy, and cycling in general thrived on the “American factor” — the residuals that any successful U.S. athlete brings to a sport.

Exactly what the French might hope to accomplish with a petty disqualification of Lance is hopelessly dubious. With Armstrong out of the race, a huge sucking sound ensues among media, commercial revenue, team participation and just plain international interest.

For Lance to “fight back” with a video raising the possibility that he would be disqualified was a masterful psychological stroke. It put the onus on the French to make a declaration one way or the other. The longer time passes with silence, the harder it will be for officials to disqualify Lance.

More significantly, the video and the accompanying firestorm of outre from Lance’s fans and defenders showed the French just how stupid a disqualification would be.

Lance is no threat to win the Tour (he probably won’t even finish) and has made a huge deal of being drug-free this time around (doubts remain over his Tour wins, of course). Officials should just let this one go with an indignant reprimand and move on. Having Lance in the Tour, even if it’s primarily a ceremonial role, will give a ton of PR to the event on the positive side. Banning Lance over a technicality will just smear the whole cycling scene anew.

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