Apparently there is a new Lance Armstrong controversy brewing. Well, it's actually already done brewing and is ready to drink up.
Now, it isn't that I find it terribly "newsworthy", but I have to confess that it has caught my attention. ASO, the group behind the Tour de France, pretty glaringly snubbed Big Tex at the unveiling of the 2006 Tour route. I'm not saying that they are openly slapping him around, because I don't know if they have the courage, but they aren't playing nice.
Since that unveiling and all of the consequent fallout with Johan Bruyneel's response and Lance's response, a lot of chatter has been taking place. Some people saying that Lance made the Tour what it is now and others saying that the Tour is what made Lance into Lance.
So, in true Masiguy form, here's my take on it all;
1st- Who cares about the fact that they aren't being nice to Lance? Don't get me wrong because I do believe he deserves more respect. Hey, he's won 7 more Tours than I have... and 2 more than the 4 guys with the next most wins. Here's the thing though- ASO has never liked Lance as a winner of the Tour and never even really cared for LeMond and his 3 wins. To an extent, Europe has not really ever cared for American winners of their sporting events. Honestly, if a French team learned to play basesball (I know I'm speaking fairy tale talk now) and then came over and won the World Series, we probably wouldn't like them either.
2nd- Lance didn't make the Tour and the Tour didn't make Lance. They made each other. Before Lance showed up, the Tour was still the biggest sporting event in the world, with the exception of the World Cup (soccer). Lance and his very compelling story of recovery from cancer helped to make the Tour bigger and gain the American audience, which then helped to foster a larger global audience. However, if Lance had "only" won the Vuelta a Espana (that's the Tour of Spain for all you uncivilized Americans), the American audience wouldn't have been as big because the Tour is the Tour. Now, you start adding into the cancer story a few more wins and a few more wins and you've got something you can sell. On top of all of that, you throw in an arch nemesis named Jan Ullrich and you've got yourself something truly spectacular. Big Tex versus Der Kaiser... Hollywood couldn't have scripted a better story (which is why rumors abound about a Lance movie in the making). Then, just when things are almost at true fever pitch, you get Lance leaving his wife Kristin and then shacking up with a popular music personality like Sheryl Crow. Dear Budha! It doesn't get much better than that. So, neither of them made the other, but rather they both became larger by virtue of their relationship. A love-hate relationship at that.
In the end, there are two truths to remember; A) Lance is likely to be the only rider who will go on to win 7 Tours and 2) the Tour de France is the greatest spectacle in all of cycling, if not all of sport.
The 2006 edition of the Tour will captivate the imagination of the cycling public, just as it always does. There will be plenty of bickering about whether or not the winner is deserving of the title, just like always. Honestly, I think the only remaining question has to be what will the retirementof Lance mean to the business of cycling? I have my theories of course, but I'm gonna hold off on any predictions for the moment... so stay tuned.