He must be punch drunk. That was my first reaction to the recent news that Lance Armstrong was coming back.
Not just riding a bike again. Trying to win his eighth Tour de France.
Punch drunk. Why else would a 37-year-old ride a bike 2,200 miles? Especially when he already has enough yellow jerseys to open a retail outlet.
Ego, of course. But I’m not one of those people who thinks ego is always such a bad thing – in manageable doses. Ego is a trait common to almost anyone who ranks at (or near) the top of their profession. Audacity is almost required in order to achieve greatness.
But this is nuts.
And it seems he’s going to go through with it. The cycling czars gave him a pass Wednesday, bypassing their own rules to allow him to make his return in Australia in a race that takes place January 20-25. Technically, he would have had to file his paperwork with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency six months prior to the race, which would have put him at Feb. 1.
I’m not surprised Armstrong was cleared to return. I just don’t buy his reasoning – that the cancer-survivor wants to call attention to his well-known, worldwide crusade against the disease.
I don’t buy it because cancer has never had a more visible, more popular, more successful combatant. According to his Livestrong Foundation’s website, Armstrong has raise more than $250 million since 1997.
It’s been three years since he won his last Tour, but Lance has remained a fund-raising machine, buoyed in part by his paparazzi-loving lifestyle and songstresses and starlets he’s dated since his divorce.
Armstrong does not need to get on a bike again to fight cancer. He does it every day simply by getting out of bed – and asking for aid.
Armstrong needs to get on a bike again to fight the innuendos that won’t go away, the whispers of critics who say he could not have done what he did and been clean.
Perhaps his most prominent critic is three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond, who’s had a longtime beef with Armstrong over Lance’s associations with Michele Ferrari, an Italian doctor known for doping.
Last month, LeMond burst into an Armstrong press conference and hijacked the proceedings with a question-tirade about doping. Armstrong, ever the competitor, interrupted LeMond, saying: “You’ve done your job. It’s time for everybody to move on.”
Later, LeMond told ESPN’s Outside the Lines: “If [Armstrong’s] clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud,” LeMond said.
Armstrong has vowed he will pass all of the sport’s new, tougher, anti-doing regulations, which have been instituted since he retired.
I hope he does. But Armstrong should also be careful what he wishes for.
He doesn’t have to win another Tour in order to “win” at this comeback. But he has to get through it clean.
Otherwise, the effort would have done more than taint an icon, but it might also diminish a mission that is vastly more important than proving critics wrong.