Lance Arm­strong re­turns to pro cy­cling – this time with a mike

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ja­son Blevins Rick Maese, The Wash­ing­ton Post Ja­son Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@den­ver­ or @ja­son­blevins

Lance Arm­strong will be join­ing the Colorado Clas­sic bike race next week.

But the con­tro­ver­sial cy­cling leg­end will be man­ning a mike, not a bike, trav­el­ing with the four-stage race to Colorado Springs, Breck­en­ridge and Den­ver ped­dling his new daily “Stages” pod­cast from a stu­dioout­fit­ted Airstream trailer Aug. 9-13.

Arm­strong and Austin, Texas, ra­dio host JB Hager de­buted “Stages” for last month’s Tour de France from stu­dios in Austin and Aspen. The pod­cast was down­loaded more than 5 mil­lion times dur­ing the 23-day­long race, rank­ing it in the top 10 on iTunes in July.

“I re­ally didn’t know what to ex­pect and there was re­ally no pres­sure for it to be well re­ceived,” Arm­strong said from his home in Aspen ear­lier this week.

“The end re­sult pretty much blew me away.”

It’s been five years since Arm­strong’s fall from grace, a spec­tac­u­lar plum­met from can­cer-beat­ing cy­cling su­per­star to dop­ing pariah. He’s banned for life from sanc­tioned cy­cling and other Olympic sports. His seven Tour de France ti­tles, his spon­sors and his role in Live­strong all are gone.

What Arm­strong does have is his pod­cast­ing. His year-old weekly “For­ward” pod­cast, which veers from mu­si­cians to au­thors to NFL play­ers to re­ally any­one who in­ter­ests Arm­strong, has been suc­cess­ful. “Stages” bol­stered down­loads of “For­ward,” he said.

“I think peo­ple re­ally liked the raw­ness of it,” Arm­strong said of “Stages,” which of­fered plenty of blus­tery f-bombs spic­ing his char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally acute take on cy­cling dy­nam­ics.

“There’s not a spon­sor. I get to say what­ever I want to say. It’s not that I don’t care, but I’m not any­body’s lap­dog.”

He’s grown pretty in­ured to his crit­ics, who are loud and abun­dant af­ter he spent years re­morse­lessly at­tack­ing peo­ple who, it turned out, were dead-on when they outed him as a cheat­ing doper.

“I un­der­stand it and I get it and I can’t fight that. The name of the pod­cast is ‘For­ward’ for a rea­son,” he said. “I’m mov­ing for­ward with my life and with the work I’m do­ing.”

Or­ga­niz­ers be­hind the Colorado Clas­sic said there was one pre­dom­i­nant fac­tor that eclipsed Arm­strong’s po­ten­tially po­lar­iz­ing pres­ence at the in­au­gu­ral race.

“Five mil­lion down­loads. We were blown away by that. He, with­out a doubt, has the big­gest au­di­ence in cy­cling,” said Ken Gart, the Colorado bike cham­pion who cor­ralled in­vestors to re­vive pro­fes­sional cy­cling in Colorado af­ter the death of the Pro Chal­lenge.

“If we were launch­ing his new strat­egy, that would be one thing,” Gart said. “But with 5 mil­lion down­loads, this will help us con­nect with that se­ri­ous cy­cling au­di­ence.”

Arm­strong says he’s “cu­ri­ous and hope­ful” about the new Colorado Clas­sic model for pro cy­cling, which mar­ries mu­sic in a tick­eted down­town food-and-drink fes­ti­val with pro­fes­sional rac­ing. It’s a new twist that in­vestors hope can sus­tain rac­ing that has tra­di­tion­ally floun­dered in the U.S.

Arm­strong said he’s just as ex­cited to see the Jay­hawks and Wilco as he is to watch the cir­cuit rac­ing through Den­ver’s River North neigh­bor­hood. Maybe the mu­sic can help woo spon­sors who can sup­port the race, but the bright­est lights need to shine on the ath­letes, he said.

“I’m not sure who to watch,” Arm­strong said. “I think half­way through the first stage, you won’t know who is go­ing to win, but you will def­i­nitely know who is not go­ing to win.”

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