So it’s really official now. Lance is back, and he’s going to be riding with the Astana squad. And, he’s bringing Don Catlin and company along for the ride, as his personal anti-doping testers/certifiers. Damn. There’s a major “in your face” moment. Almost like Lance is daring the ADAs to throw their worst at him. He’s got the credibility of one of the most respected (former) insiders behind his effort to prove he races clean. As Rachel Cohen of the Associated Press reported a few hours ago:
“I think this will be the most advanced anti-doping program in the world,” Armstrong said. “I’m going to talk about it today; beyond today, I’m not going to tell you how clean I am, and I’m not going to insinuate how dirty the others are.
“I’m going to ride my bike, I’m going to spread this message (about the fight against cancer) around the world, and Don Catlin can tell you if I’m clean or not.”
Well, good luck with that. I’m sure some of the more conspiracy minded (when it comes to LA, that is) will say that Armstrong has simply bought Catlin off. To me, he’s going into a team with Damsgaard’s anti-doping program — a pretty strict one — and then layering Don Catlin and company on top for good measure. Either he’s crazy, or crazy like a fox.
According to what I’ve seen in various places ever since the “Lance is coming back” story broke, this coming season is about drawing attention to cancer, and the global need to do something about it. Consider that his announcement was made at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting today. As Cohen also reports:
As he described his 2009 Tour plans, the 37-year-old Armstrong sometimes made it sound as though this was more a publicity move to raise awareness about the fight against cancer than a legitimate shot at winning an eighth title.
If that’s the case, then I’m expecting that somewhere on the Astana jerseys next year there’s going to be a LiveStrong logo. There darn well better be. And it better be pretty prominent, if Lance is serious about getting the message out.
Armstrong is also sounding pretty humble about his own chances. As Cohen goes on to relate:
“I think we’re sure we’ll have success with the [cancer awareness] movement, because we need it,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press, “but I’m not sure I’ll be the fastest cyclist in the world.”
Of course, it’s not the fastest cyclist who wins the Tour. It’s the cyclist who is the smartest, and who trains the hardest, and who manages to put together a team of supporting riders who are second to none. And, given the things that can happen in any bike race, there’s a certain element of luck. As in, managing to avoid crashes (and do a bit of cyclocross through a field, when necessary), among other things.
Lance is someone who will be a contender, I suspect. But so is his (at least for the moment) teammate, Alberto Contador. Somewhere out there tonight, Alberto Contador must be banging his head against the wall and (in Spanish) saying, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
A couple of days ago, Contador, the now proud owner of the champions jerseys from not one, not two, but all three Grand Tours (having won the Vuelta on this past Sunday), was quoted as saying “there ain’t enough room in this team for two alpha dogs. So if they’re gonna bring in Lance, I’m gonna go to another team. It’s not like there haven’t been any offers, you know.” OK, he didn’t really say it quite like that, but that’s what he meant. It remains to be seen if he will leave the squad or where he might go. I have a few hunches, and that means a few other Tour contenders might need to be nervous about their places in various teams’ pecking orders.
Today, however, Astana released a statement by Contador that said:
“Right now people are looking to make up controversy, but honestly I have no ill will towards Lance. I identify with his passion for the sport. He has certainly been a role model for me and others throughout the world, and I imagine having him on Team Astana will only motivate me further.”
I’m sure it will. I don’t think young AC is going to take this lying down. If Master Albert stays with Astana, he’s going to be motivated to be the team leader when the Tour kicks off next summer, and to have Lance working in a new role. As George Vescey, of The New York Times, reports:
Armstrong said he hoped that Alberto Contador, the talented winner of the 2007 Tour, would not leave in a huff if Armstrong signed on, as Contador has threatened to do in recent days.
“If I’m not the strongest guy on the team, then I’m the domestique,” Armstrong said, somewhat tentatively.
That would be interesting to see. I can imagine that right now, somewhere in Spain, a young Tour champion is planning his training to come out strongest in the struggle to be the designated man for Astana in 2009. And on the other side of the pond, the graybeard returning winningest of Tour champions is plotting his training to do the very same thing. “I think there’s room for all of us on that team,” Lance told the Associated Press.
According to Armstrong, his preparation for the 2009 Tour is going to be a bit different than the seven he’s already won, because he’s going to use his training and racing to focus on getting his message about cancer out.
“This will not look like any other Tour de France preparation,” he told the Associated Press. “The fact that we’re starting the season down under in Australia, looking to events in South Africa, looking to do training camps in South America — this won’t resemble any of the other seven victories, which is slightly scary.
“But I think you have the need and the void in these societies that it helps when you go.”
Will Astana actually be at the Tour, and will Lance be competing there come July? Interesting questions. Rachel Cohen’s story quotes Pat McQuaid as saying that Astana is on the list of teams who will be invited to the 2009 and 2010 Tours. But Christian Prudhomme has not gone on the record to confirm that — yet.
Whatever happens over the coming year, I think Levi Leipheimer has his finger on things, as the AP story relates:
“He [Lance] will make everyone on the team better, and that is a good thing,” Leipheimer said from the cycling world championships in Varese, Italy.
Armstrong’s comeback is going to be one of the big stories of the 2009 cycling season. And, if he accomplishes what he is setting out to do, he’ll be raising the issue of cancer worldwide.
Good luck with all that, Mistah Lance. I have four reasons to be rooting for you: My dad and my mother’s parents. All of whom succumbed to cancer. All of whom fought valiantly to beat the disease. And a fourth person I know — who wishes to remain nameless for the time being — who’s currently waiting to find out if a growth that was discovered recently is bladder cancer or just some benign growth. Cancer strikes too many of us, and hits way too close to home at times.
I hope you succeed in raising people’s awareness about the diseases we call cancer, and what we can do to find newer, better ways of both prevention and treatment. Perhaps, sometime in the not-too-distant future, people who are diagnosed with pancreatic or ovarian or lung or bladder cancer or any other cancer will think of these things as mere inconveniences that can be easily treated and cured. Some already are. If/when the day comes that all cancers are mere inconveniences, some of the credit will belong to Lance Armstrong. And it will be well deserved.