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