Love for Lance

Tour de France 2009 stg Grand Bornand
In losing the 2009 Tour de France Lance Armstrong has experienced something many of us wouldn’t have dared guess. He’s feeling the love. The Lance backlash has un-backlashed for some people. People of every nationality who reviled Armstrong have turned about face and are, almost inexplicably, fans again.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Annecy time trial. Though one could hear the occasional jeer (and one guy did moon him) on the climb of the Cote de Bluffy, Armstrong rode to the cheers of thousands.

Some sports writer somewhere will attribute this to the French psyche, postulating that the French have such a history of defeat they could only love a loser, turning a profound event into the butt of yet another joke about the French.

That Armstrong would experience a turnaround in public opinion here in the United States isn’t as surprising, nor is it as apparent. Armstrong has continued to have legions of fans and those who did dislike him did so for a variety of reasons: that he was overexposed and no other capable cyclists got any mainstream media attention, that he was too dominant at the Tour de France, that there are strong allegations of doping, that he rained on Contador’s parade.

The dislike the French have felt for Armstrong (and dislike is putting it lightly) has been simpler and more uniform in nature, which is what makes the turnaround so much more dramatic and complete.

For the French people, if not the French media, their dislike of Armstrong was rooted in his dominance. Three is, indeed, a magic number. It seems to be the point beyond which the crowd begins to turn; it happened to Miguel Indurain, and for some folks, it happened following Mark Cavendish’s third stage win at this year’s Tour. When Armstrong took the yellow jersey at the 2002 Tour de France, French opinion began to change of the great champion.

By 2003 most of France was united against Armstrong and his dominance in their mind was intertwined with their belief that he must be doping. With each successive win his utter authority in the race only reinforced the belief that his achievement was superhuman.

Now, in defeat, he is human once again. One of us. People who haven’t cheered for Armstrong in years have been shouting for him to put in a big performance, ironically just the sort of performance that made people dislike him in the first place.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Doug

    What France did you visit?
    The France I know well has so many Lance fans I could puke…
    Boy I’m sick of arrogant American boo hoo nobody loves us bullshit!! Lance IS LOVED, WAS LOVED by the French, as a loser or as a winner. Get over it! Saying it is so doesn’t make Lance hated, people! But- all this controversy sells French sports newspapers and keeps interest in cycling (and blogs), so maybe all this bull*** isn’t so bad after all.

  2. TJH

    Come on Padraig, since when did you become such a polemic? That opening sentence seems a bit much. It’s never been his tour to “lose”. I read your entries because they’re always pretty even handed, for a blog anyway;-) I’m no Lance groupie, far from it, but sitting third is hardly “losing”. He’s coming back next year for more. Insane maybe, but defeated, doubtful.

  3. mark

    Last I checked second place = first loser. So I agree with Padraig’s assessment. Lance came to win and didn’t. Can someone please tell me who came in second in 1987? Because I don’t remember. I couldn’t tell you the runner-up to any of Indurain’s victories either. I know that Ullrich finished second to Lance a few times, but I don’t remember in which years. But I can tell you who WON the Tour from the time I was 11 years old to today.

    Count me among the former Lance haters who’s had a change of heart. For me it was about the inordinate attention as well as the doping allegations. I think he’s clean for once this year, but I’m not so sure about a certain teammate.

  4. Lachlan

    Hmmm Difficult one.

    First I bet most folks commenting here do know who was second in 1987. But thats a bit besides the point

    Lance has my regards toa more than in the past perhaps because he did BETTER than expected… not because he did worse than in past years.

    Although there were plenty of doubts because of his amazing record, most cyclist I know were extremely doubtful and scoffing at the idea that he’d be able to cut it in the mountains, and last over the 3 weeks. He’s doing a great ride, better than we thought. (helped it should be noted by being in the Astana TTT domination, then the break in the wind.)

    I think so far, its more simply just relief that he didn’t totally mess with our perception of the world, than genuine love! 😉

    1. Author

      I’m not someone who wallows in the “oh they hate us.” My personal experience with the French has been exceptional but I definitely saw an overall change in attitude toward Armstrong over successive years. I’m speaking in broader strokes here. I think it’s hard to argue there hasn’t been achange in the attitude of the French.

      My wife is in labor but I’ll do my best to follow and respond to the comments. Thanks for the feedback.

  5. MCH

    Congrats on the soon to be mini-Padraig!
    Once again, I think you’ve nailed the core of this topic – the overall change in mood towards Lance. When he was dominating he came to be viewed as an egotistical asshole. Seemingly always mean and on the defensive or attacking someone in interviews, surrounded by body guards and the don’t come near me vibe. That seems to be different now. I do believe that Lance is once again viewed as human and approachable. I think its a factor of his performing against expectations at a very high level, but not at the highest level. It seems somewhat twisted to say, but once again he’s the underdog. And as a result, people feel comfortable rooting for him. The softening of his approach to the media hasn’t hurt and his focus on the Livestrong message is compelling. I’m surprised to be saying this now, but I’m glad to see him back. I wish him well.

  6. TJH

    1st Congrats Padraig! Authur! Authur!
    2nd: To Mark. how many times have you come in 2nd and a) either thought of yourself as 1st loser or b) had someone tell you that’s what you were. I think your comment is more reflective of public opinion and not that of those who race. Personally, I’d rank the 2nd places I’ve scored right behind the 1sts 😉

  7. Jurgen

    Wow. Given the (apparent) lack of respect LA and JB have shown AC this year (Bruyneel’s “Contador might defend Lance’s podium on the Ventoux” is just the latest), my esteem for Armstrong has actually gone down.


    It’s clear now–if it wasn’t already–that head-to-head Armstrong is nowhere near the rider Contador is. (That’s not a knock on Lance. Nobody is–and the rest of the pack ain’t 38-years-old.) But Contador’s performance has only made ridiculous the whole pseudo-drama in the lead up to (and even during the first week of) the Tour.

    Yes, Contador will be poorer (in every sense) for not evolving as a rider along with Bruyneel at RadioShack. But I don’t doubt the kind of hurt he’ll be able to put on the peleton in the years ahead even with a lesser team and directeur sportif.

    (Sorry. Was this supposed to be about Lance?)

  8. Spindrift

    Cycling, for me, has always been about rooting for the long shot — the gritty, rough-around-the-edges rider who isn’t necessarily functioning on a perfect storm of physiology and training, but who pulls his lungs out to stick with the leaders and make a mark on a race. This year, Lance Armstrong has become more Jens Voigt and less Jor-El.

  9. bikesgonewild

    …total props to you & the new mom, padraig…& oh, my…i can only imagine the new little one, be it a boy or girl, will have the middle name of “red kite”…whoa…

    …can anybody honestly deny that lance armstrong standing on the third podium spot, after the layoff, at his age & the effort of the last three weeks, is not a moral winner ???…beyond my imagination…

    …& this particular tour just may be a case wherein folks reflecting back will remember who did fill the whole podium…“oh ya…wasn’t that the one when armstrong came back & actually podiumed ???…yeah & that schleck kid got second & he won a coupla tours after that”

    …just sayin’…

  10. Jason

    Congrats on the in process addition!

    It’s been said here already and in many other places as well but it’s worth repeating:

    A 37-year-old on the podium of the Tour de France in 2009 is simply an amazing feat.

    1. Author

      First, thanks everyone for the generous well-wishes. Mother and new dude are doing well.

      Thanks as well for the passionate comments. To the degree that I prefer one outcome to another is the one in which each rider rises to the position appropriate to their fitness and savvy. I do see how Contador’s attack two days ago may have been meant to punish Armstrong. I see any intentional action that hurts the placing of a teammate as objectionable. I don’t believe there was any conspiracy between Johan and Lance to subvert Alberto. In looking at Johan’s quotes I think he was being really diplomatic. If I had to guess I think he knew Alberto was always stronger but didn’t want try to muzzle Lance for fear of alienating him.

      I love history-making performances and would have loved to see an Astana sweep. That said I also find Schleck’s performance very impressive, a worthy runner up.

  11. Marco Placero

    Congratulations Padraig and Mrs. Padraig, and happy birthday to piccolo bambino Padraig!

    I wonder what tech inovations he’ll enjoy on his year 2049 Colnago.

  12. Android356

    I had just left Annecy just before the tour came through and after 3 weeks there I’d say that most were pro-Lance whom I talked to. I think they are just for anybody game for a comeback and have such great respect for their Tour. The guy is a stud – 37 and on the steps?! Great team though helps a bunch. Next year will be a interesting one as well.

    An Contador goes to the highest bidder…..??!!

  13. Ron

    People of every nationality who reviled Armstrong have turned about face and are, almost inexplicably, fans again.

    Pat : That’s a bold statement. I would like to see some figures validating that. It may be true, it may not be true. Now be careful here now. Just because more people switch on their televisions to watch the Tour doesn’t necessarily mean they are in a romance with Lance Armstrong. Tell me where you read that Lance has more fans now than before? Was it his bludgeoning twitter account that has half a million followers? Be careful there too. If Contador had a twitter account, I’d bet the whole of Spain would become his followers, and you’d have something close to half a million followers or more.

    In short, what I’m saying is that there is no conclusive evidence that Lance Armstrong has more fans now, neither is there any proof that his former detractors are now wearing livestrong bands and chanting his name.

    My two cents…

    Cozy Beehuve

  14. Will

    I agree with Ron above. If Lance has done ‘so much for cycling’ tell me how many Americans know who won the Giro d’Italia this year? How many Americans have even heard of the Vuelta? Lance is about Lance, and that’s cool, but there’s a lot of inflation going on about his importance to the world of bike riding just because he rides a bike. If you’re a fan, just admit it, but don’t think that he’s made your neighbor any more interested in ‘cycling’ as a sport.

  15. GuyS

    I was in PAris for the end of the 2007 Tour and even though LAnce wasn’t there, I did have said to me by more than one Frenchman, “Thank God the Cheat isn’t here to win this one!”. That was Contador’s first win. I see he’s already being whispered about as a possible cheat due to his domination of any grand tour he enters. Give him another victory in 2010 and watch the world start to shout it. I’m not too certain about LA’s cleanliness vis a vis doping but if I’m to hold him to a high standard then its only right that Alberto face the same measuring stick. Just how does a ‘whipet’ like Contador beat a thoroughbred like Cancellera?! Don’t give me the ,”Its the end of a three week Tour…” stuff, they all had put in large efforts. Whether or not Cobtador drsfted behind those motos I can’t see him being close to him and still be able to climb like that…

  16. Alex

    Well… from what I read since Lance returned to pro cycling, every (I mean, every) race promoter simply drools at the prospect of having him racing his event.

    From Australia to the roads of the ToC, the Giro and even – now that´s of some real significance – Mr. Prudhome himself, admited that Lance has attracted more media, more press, bigger public, record audiences, extra excitation and interest. At the beginning of the Tour, the spanish media was shouting everywhere that Lance´s participation in the Tour almost tripled TV audiences. No, wait, that credit should go to AC…

    Of course not everyone who turned on TV to watch the Tour will head out the door and ride a bike, take on cycling or enter a race. But I guess there´s no questioning that he brings more interest to cycling, and his persona reaches far beyond that of any other cyclist. Even Lance being about himself, it´s innevitable that the consequences of his presence in a cycling event should draw attention to whatever is going on.

    My 2C

  17. jg

    I actually think Contador’s attacks were totally reasonable. In every decisive stage of this year’s race (starting with stage 1), he showed himself to be the strongest rider on his team, and yet there never seemed to be any assurance from Bruyneel or Armstrong that he would have their full support. So I can understand Contador basically saying “If I have to do it myself, I’ll do it myself…” and taking the race into his own hands. In previous years, the Armstrong/Bruyneel tour teams have always been characterized by an absolutely singular focus on winning the GC, and yet it seems that this year, because Lance wasn’t in yellow, they weren’t willing to make that same commitment.

  18. Blue

    i’m not a lance fan. he lost my respect somewhere, sometime in the past. you can listen to his words but his body language gives him away. he’s not a nice guy. he needs to be in the spotlight like an addict needs his drugs. he’s just another self-sentered,spoiled,arrogant ass.

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