He’s B-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ck!

by Rant on September 24, 2008 · 18 comments

in Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Tour de France

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.

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William Schart September 24, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Crazy idea, but what if Lance’s goal is not to win the TdF, but to help Levi win it? And along the way, raise cancer awareness. Imagine Lance doing the super-domestique rule – there might still be enough in those 37 year old legs (that’s old?) to hlep Levi (or someone else) up Alpe d’Huez or the Tourmalet or whatever. This would eliminate the theory that anything less than a win in ’09 would be indicative that the 7 wins were drug fueled, and provide less fuel for the “in order to be that good at that age, he would have to dope” theory, as he wouldn’t have to be “that” good.

Morgan Hunter September 25, 2008 at 1:26 am

Well – well – well…

One thing we can be very certain of – Lance certainly seems to be delivering that old saw to Prudhomme and the rest of the cycling hob-nobs – “May you live in interesting times!”

I will look forward to how Mr Prudhomme and the ASO will try to block the worlds strongest team – THAT should be a real whale of a white elephant of convoluted reasoning…

I for one will love to watch this whole circus.

One little point Rant – since when has Patty McQuickie been a “spokesman” for the Tour?

William – we’ll see who is the strongest – right about at the first time trial!

Rant September 25, 2008 at 5:53 am

Ya kinda gotta wonder if that’s the man’s plan. Personally, I think he’s crazy like a fox, and not just plain crazy.
I know, I know. McQ is no spokesman for Le Tour. Makes for an interesting tidbit, though. Does that mean old Mr. Patty is back in the ASO’s good graces, or is he just blowing smoke again? I guess we won’t really find out until the folks in Paris announce who the real 2009 invitees are.

Matt September 25, 2008 at 8:25 am

I still think Lance is risking a LOT (his entire career and past cycling accomplishments). It doesn’t matter WHO does his anti-doping program…they are NOT a current WADA lab.

Lets just say for the sake of argument, that next year a certain high-profile newly un-retired rider comes up positive for some doping test at a race in France…someone who (MAYBE) the French, ASO and WADA have been after for years, but has been untouchable for the last 3…now what?

The only test that matters is the one performed by WADA personnel at their lab…all others don’t count…as was mentioned…there’d be lots of speculation..maybe he bought off Mr. Catlin…maybe THEY screwed up their test…and it has been proven that you can’t attack WADA tests (ask Floyd how that went. It would appear that arb panels AND the CAS are willing to overlook actual evidence in their verdicts…they aren’t a court of law and bound by such things)…and as WADA makes the tests, they are judge jury and executioner. And if he were to test positive (real or not), most everybody would then be saying “HA! We couldn’t get you then, but we got you now! Once a cheat, always a cheat!” I think the credibity of his 7 wins is at risk here. Just my 2 cents worth. (NOT TO MENTION the serious knife in the backs of Alberto, Levi AND Kloden who have earned THEIR chance at being team leader!)

But all that aside, it most surely will be a VERY interesting 2009 season!

Rant September 25, 2008 at 9:19 am

Everything you say is true. Lance is taking a huge risk to “un-retire.” And no anti-doping tests really matter except the ones done by the official labs. And it’s definitely a slap in the face or knife in the back to Alberto, Levi and Andreas that he’s going to usurp their chances at being the team leader — unless, somehow, he’s not quite the rider he was a few years back. And knowing how Lance trains, I suspect that’s not going to happen.
For all of those reasons, 2009 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting/exciting seasons to watch in quite some time. For the cycling world it’s like Morgan said, “May you live in interesting times.”

Van Somer September 25, 2008 at 7:08 pm

Mr. Armstrong has his reasons and the right to come back to the sport he obviously loves. Whatever his reasons he will be a great and very welcome addition to the current cast of professional riders and he will influence thousands of young, old, professional, recreational and unborn riders yet to come.

Who care what the Dick Pounds, the conspiracy addicts, the mean spirited former tour winner, or any others say, Lance Armstrong has freedom of will, as we all do, to do what he wants, as long as what he does is not harmful to anyone else; how can it be?

Morgan Hunter September 25, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Rant, Mat….

It is just possible that Lance has nothing to lose – the fact is – ANYONE in the world will know the name – Lance Armstrong – they might just know it as “oh yeah – ain’t he that cycling guy?” But consider for one moment – who ASO – WADA – UCI et al – are actually playing their tunes to? Really only two groups – the “tifosi” like us – and their political backers ( think money).

Now – the FIASCO that was the CAS ruling is pretty much acknowledged by most sane thinking people – as pure garbage. People have come to realize that the “governing bodies” in cycling are playing with their own stacked deck. No matter WHAT SPIN the CAS and other “authorities” have been flushing out to the general public – (William – this next is completely sarcastically meant) – OH YEAH – – WE ARE TO ACCEPT THAT “JUSTICE” WAS SERVED – because??????? -oh yeah – CAS TRIED TO “BITCH SLAP” FLOYEDs’ LAWYERS FOR DEFENDING their client!!!

Larry – I find it completely unacceptable when plaintiff lawyers are media wise – accused of “losing” because they attack the accusers…just for a moment – I read your “commentary” on the case – WHEN EXACTLY have we gone full on so inane that we should even consider biased and prejudicial commentary from such a group? If you ask me – I think that the CAS was “feeling powerful” and they had convinced themselves that they can “pull the same crap” that they do with cyclist.

I know – you all think I digressed and forgot Lance – But my point is – consider that Lance may just be BIG ENOUGH so that if “who ever” accuses him of doping WILL BE TAKEN TO A PROPER COURT – after all – Lance has done this in the past and WON HIS CASES!

Lance Armstrong does not strike me as a player who leaves things to mere “chance” – Man I hope the idiots actually do try to yank his chain – I believe – for the past 3 years of retirement – Lance has been pretty busy – MAKING HIS OWN POLITICAL connections – as they say – the man has “street cred!”

I find myself actually chortling!

Rant September 25, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Well said. Whatever his reasons, Lance has every right to give it a shot and see what happens. And he’ll no doubt inspire a whole lot of people in the process. Whatever else, even Christian Prudhomme had to admit that Armstrong’s return has prompted a lot of excitement among the fans — even in France. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch the races he’s in next year. In a way that’s been missing for quite some time.

Rant September 25, 2008 at 7:25 pm

You’re back in fine form, indeed! You’ve been missed around here.

Van Somer September 25, 2008 at 7:28 pm

100% agreement! Thank you.

William Schart September 25, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Glad to see you back, Morgan!

Whatever happens in 09, legally, there is nothing anyone can do about 1999-2005, at least based on what happens in 09. Of course, there are those who will, regardless of what happens on 09 make allegations about LA, both past and present. Any positive, or even suspicious results, will bring forth a lot of comments about Tours past.

But, whatever happens in 09 only has bearing on 09. Even if Lance wins every race he enters, and is able to prove in some manner acceptable even to his doubter that he is clean, it doesn’t prove he was clean in the past. And of course, even if he dopes in 09 doesn’t mean he doped in the past either.

Morgan Hunter September 26, 2008 at 1:46 am

Hear, hear William!

I’ve not been writing – but have been lurking…ye-ep…it is all true…I was actually TRYING to “clean myself up” from my Season “preparations” – would not dare to RANT …you know…Dirty? I’m thinking “come uppence?”

Thanks Rant for the warm welcome back – actually never left!

How about the “new idea” on HOW a “Team Captain” is “made”….??? Hell – say what you want – but as far as I know – LA was the BIG GORILLA – not because some committee or individual said he was – NOPE – ! BELIEVE IT HAS TO DO WITH “WHAT YOU ACTUALLY DO IN THE SADDLE”- consider this a “public service announcement” –

Lance was the BEST because he was better then all the runts in the pack! Not because Johann said he was…Mssrs – Contador and ALL OTHERS should thank their lucky stars that one of the “old guard” decided to come back – teach them something about what it takes to be THE BEST and lets not forget – 7x’s!!!!

While some may like it or not – Lance LEFT because he chose to – all the “gaming” on all sides is MEANINGLESS – you know – “opinions” trying to pass themselves off as “knowledgeable authority” – they wish…

In the end – Lance will “go in whatever style” he chooses – not by “popularity”…

Larry September 26, 2008 at 8:35 am

Morgan, welcome back buddy! I’ve missed you. I don’t know what commentary of mine you’re referring to, though. For the record, I have no explanation for what happened to Floyd at the CAS. I’ve been playing around with a few ideas, like the idea that Floyd’s lawyers might have crossed some kind of a line where their arguments went beyond the sort of “fair play” that is ideally supposed to be at the heart of athletic competition. If you’re not all that impressed with this explanation, well, neither am I.

Since I cannot explain (let alone predict) what these sports tribunals are going to do, I’ve given up being the “lawyer” here and on TBV. They say that “your guess is as good as mine”, but in these cases, your guess is probably better.

Rant September 26, 2008 at 9:23 pm

I knew you were lurking around these parts. I’d also heard some reports of a person in a black outfit studying in some library near where you live, working on his ranting technique. Some sort of super-secret stealth training missions, or so I’m told.
That training had to be brought to an end. Who do you think you are, one of those “men in black” that Anne Gripper spoke about last year? 😉
Seriously, though. It’s good to see you back in the mix.
Sometimes there really is no good explanation for the unexplainable, is there. That’s about all I’ve been able to take away from this whole episode. It’s sort of a take-off on the old Miller Lite commercial “Less Filling — Tastes Great” from years gone by, only it’s more like “Less Filling — Tastes Awful.” YGIAGAM, indeed.

dailbob September 26, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Larry, While I don’t blame you for giving up on being a Lawyer in regard to trying to explain some on the (apparently) non-sensical renderings from the USADA and/or CAS, I still value your opinion on whether you think they violated their own rules, etc. In that vein, I had expressed the opinion that I thought the CAS panel had changed the evidence rules when they allowed USADA testimony that the correct column was actually used on the IRMS, when the documentation said otherwise. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this anymore, but I’d still be interested in any thoughts you have, even if they’re just musings.

Morgan Hunter September 27, 2008 at 10:59 am

Hey – It wasn’t me….Rant….Honest -I was actually in Brazil…yeah – really…you can ask anyone….they’ll tell you the same thing! OKAY – there is one guy who keeps asking me if we ran into each other in Maui. I asked him if he had his wife Anne with him? For some reason – he didn’t get the joke?

AND another thing – JUST BECAUSE at my age – I am vain enough to do a full “Johnny Cash” – there is truth to the fact that “black makes you slimmer!” Now as to that Austrian “rumor monger” who has led your sweet self astray – YE-EP – an old doper who is pissed because he never got “elected” to be a team captain…so don’t believe EVERYTHING he may tell you – around these parts – the guy is KNOWN to be a notorious liar!

I think I shall put this down to a “life lesson” – smoke a little dubee with some stranger – and right away – you’re a doper! I thought “sharing” was rather nice of me….and just for the record – HE was seen IN THE COMPANY OF – you got it – Anne Gripper!

Its a frame – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I don’t need “no stinking libary” to do research – got me one of them new fangled gadgets – a com-puu-ter!

Hey Mat – I think your your points are salient – my responses were not meant to counter them – WHAT ID DO BELIEVE is that Mr Armstrong – ( love repeating this!) – is a SEVEN TIME TdeF “WINNER” – who is possible wise enough to actually give the governing bodies – a run for their money in playing with the “public” prejudices card!

And you are absolutely right on – it should be a heck of a season!

Hey Larry – good to be back too – and Like Dial Bob -I sit at your feet… hey buddy!

Cabazon September 27, 2008 at 10:35 pm

I think that Lance may have already lost everything he has to lose, cycling-wise. It’s just my belief/thoughts, but he’s taken all they’ve had to this point and emerged time after time, middle finger raised. This is nothing. I say good luck to those to those that may want to tee him up like Landis. Doing this at no salary with the stipulation that Catlin do supplemental testing, that’s the double dog dare, no? I’m with the crazy like a fox angle, Rant. As a person who’s life has been greatly affected/shaped by cancer, I’m 100% behind him. Has he raced clean?

I don’t know. But neither does anyone else, for sure. Either way, please give what you can, when you can – cancer sucks.

What about Floyd’s suit in LA to vacate the ruling? Please, please US District Court in LA – hear this case.

Rant September 28, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I agree 100%. Cancer sucks. And I’d echo your suggestion, give what you can, when you can, as often as you can.
That lawsuit of Floyd’s is going to be interesting. The big hurdle is whether the court will agree that they have jurisdiction. If they do, this story will be far from over. Not sure what, if any, steps he could take if he gets turned down in the US courts. The filing deadline for challenging the decision has long since passed in Switzerland.

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