The Armstrong Legacy

News & Results

01/10/2012| 0 comments
by Neil Browne

The Armstrong Legacy

Can the Armstrong legacy take another hit and will cycling in America be able to survive?

Can the Armstrong legacy take another hit and will cycling in America be able to survive?

As you may or may not know RadioShack-Nissan-Trek officially unveiled their 2012 team. The newly formed squad combined the Leopard-Trek and RadioShack teams into one unit. Held in the biggest theater in Luxembourg the team was presented to the public for the first time. As techno music thumped, certain groups within the team were highlighted. They classified some riders as climbers, leaders, domestiques - you get the point. The two Luxembourg announcers conducted most of the interviews in English and under those circumstances did an okay job. To top it off the whole event was streamed live so people could watch for themselves and realize that they truly weren't missing much. To be fair, very few teams take the time to broadcast their presentation. Even America's only true WorldTour team, Garmin-Cervelo, didn't stream their team presentation last month in Boulder, Colorado. So why was there hate toward this newly merged squad?

To see the genesis of the hate you have to go back to how Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong are accused by Floyd Landis of creating an atmosphere of organized doping within the Postal Service squad. I won't go into the details as they have been reported in numerous places and there's a strong chance that you know the story already. Here in the States that caused some negative blowback which was further compounded by the television show 60 Minutes and their interview with Tyler Hamilton.

Where the worm started to turn was when the team started their association with a Luxembourg squad. Cycling in the States is, and will always be, a sport designated to the back pages of the sports section. For fans of the sport the 2011 RadioShack squad, along with the afore mentioned Garmin-Cervélo team, were all we had competing in the one race that gets media coverage here - le Tour de France. And of course there is always the Lance Armstrong factor that came along with the squad. Sure, he didn't suit up to race, but that name still carries a lot of clout and with that a lot of recognition. Armstrong, while not a rider, was still closely associated with the team.

I use the phrase, "that name" instead of "his name" when referring to Armstrong. In my opinion Lance Armstrong, the name, has become re-branded from a professional athlete to a marketing term to spread the LiveStrong message of bringing "cancer awareness" to the masses. Even if you agree with the methods of how LiveStrong raises funds, when reading's "It's Not About The Lab Rats" article, you may have been surprised how little the organization contributes financially to the fight against cancer. Regardless, as more articles are written about either the controversy surrounding alleged doping or the LiveStrong charity, the more the shine comes off anyone or anything associated with the seven-time Tour de France winner.

The team is coming together and while an American company is still in the title sponsor position and the squad rides a bike from an American company, it is having a more and more European centric feel. The Americans are no longer the marquee riders. Chris Horner has publicly stated that he's backing the Schlecks for the Tour de France and that a win by them is better than a top five on the general classification for him. Levi Leipheimer has left the squad for Omega Pharma-QuickStep. It's been rumored that Leipheimer and Armstrong's relationship has cooled and the Belgian outfit will be riding Specialized bikes whose headquarters are in California - not too far from Leipheimer's home base of Santa Rosa. Regardless about inter-team squabbling, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek was focused on a Tour win and QuickStep is offering their support in the Amgen Tour of California and the Pro Cycling Challenge Bike Race in Colorado or whatever it's called. For Leipheimer it's a move that makes sense.

And that leads me to another point that got people stirred up regarding RadioShack-Nissan-Trek - the name. According to the UCI it's too long. The rules state that there can only be two title sponsor names in the title. As a result Trek was flicked from the title, so don't be confused when you see RadioShack-Nissan (RSN) listed on any official results or communications from the boys in Aigle. However, that hasn't stopped the team from using their own version of the team name in their press releases or Twitter account. Many people saw this as another example of Bruyneel thumbing his nose at authority. Sure, that authority was the UCI, an organization which probably didn't get many Christmas cards from team mangers or fans, but to many it was another example of how Bruyneel thinks he is above the rules. Speaking of Bruyneel...

The Belgian director has been a fixture in the team car during all the Tour de France victories his team has earned. So it was with some surprise that he wasn't mentioned or shown during the team launch. He made an appearance at the press conference beforehand, but that's it.

If you look on the team website he is no longer the director but the general manager. On the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek company organizational chart there are six "sport directors" below him. If you've been watching any of the YouTube footage of the team camp in Mallorca it seems that sport director Alain Gallopin has taken the reins - leading the team meetings in the parking lot prior to the boys rolling out on a training ride. Is Gallopin the new man behind the steering wheel of the team's Nissan? Perhaps - but I fully expect Bruyneel to be riding shotgun come July.

Those of you who have been a fan of professional cycling for long can remember the early days of the Postal Service Professional Cycling Team. We were all wide-eyed with excitement for an American team, led by an American winning, no, dominating the Tour de France. Sure it morphed into the Discovery Channel team, but damn it, it was still American! Yeah, there were those two years when the team was Astana, which had many of us going to Google to see what an "Astana" was. But then RadioShack took over and we were happy once again! Those jingoistic times are over my friends.

Title sponsors come and go. It's best we just accept that team sponsors are not motivated by nationalist pride, but what or who is going to get them the most exposure. If the grand jury comes down on Armstrong and if (and that's a big if) any charges are brought against him expect to see American based sponsors running for the hills. Cycling isn't that big that charges of blood doping and fraud can be overlooked. But Armstrong's legacy is too strongly tied to one event and to one charity. If it takes a direct hit such as criminal charges, the Texan can expect it to all go away. I'm hoping that cycling here in the States can withstand that blow. Honestly, I'm not sure it will.

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