Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lance Announces Will Ride Tour with Astana

Disappoints on BBB bike advocacy question
September 25, 2008
Interbike, Las Vegas

This past Thursday seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong announced he will be riding for Astana for the 2009 Tour de France . His first race with the team will be at the Tour of California.

Armstrong said he is riding his eighth TDF to help raise money for cancer awareness for his not-for-profit, Livestrong, and will not be making a salary, keeping prize money, or receiving any bonuses for his participation. The length of time he plans to ride for the team is limited to a year, he said, at the end of which he intends to resume “other endurance competition.”

The announcement was made on the second day of Interbike, the largest get-together of bicycle industry businesses in the U.S. being held in Las Vegas from Sept. 24 to 26.

But at the same time he dodged a pointed question by Benepesbikeblog about what he will do to help make roads safer in the U.S. "Forty-five thousand people died because of cars last year, and many more from cancer from the exhaust of cars. Bike riding in the U.S. is still incredibly dangerous. Even here in Las Vegas it is impossible. What can you do to help make cycling safer?" she asked.
All cameras turned to Benepe who was wearing Hotvelociti's "Ciclismo es Ilicito" jersey signifying her contempt for people who tell us to get off the road, "you don't belong here."

Armstrong said he understands: he is not sure he would even allow his children to ride on the road because it is not safe. "That is why we need more trails," he noted, adding that it was government's job to make cycling safer.

"But government is taking too long," replied Benepe. "Change takes time," replied Armstrong.

The interchange was picked up by a handful of international news outlets, who thought the advocacy angle was more of a news item than Armstrong's team announcement. Some came to BBB afterwards to express their concern that it was the only important theme of the entire presser, and disappointment that he did not answer the question--and with his answer, that some found weak.

"At a press conference [Armstrong] stipulated to the disappointment of several US bike industry leaders that he will not use his name for cycling advocacy. When asked what he could do to get more people cycling outside the sport he answered: “That’s an issue for the Government”, reported Bike Europe.

The question is a good one and deserves to be answered properly by Armstrong: although it is admirable that he is leading the fight for cancer research, his work does little to help cycling. As a major world leader in the sport, he could make a tremendous difference for cycling around the world--much more than he could for cancer research. For one, he could motivate people and governments to make changes that are long overdue such as adding spaces on roads, and increasing penalties for drivers, and to move faster to convert facilities and options for cyclists.

One writer for Bike Europe said that the only thing that will work to make drivers more careful around cyclists is to send them to jail when they strike a cyclist--even if it is the cyclist's fault, said Jan Willem von Schalk after the presser. He noted that this law has been adopted in his hometown of Amsterdam, to great effect.

The BBB questions did lead to some soul-searching among American media usually so preoccupied with the next race, the next drug, and the next hot team. Wrote blogger Rich Kelly on the InterbikeBlog.com, "racers complain about unsafe drivers, or poor road conditions, but for the most part, our contribution to advocacy has been limited to complaining to the police officer who has pulled us over for not riding single file."

Armstrong's announcement was not without what has now become the standard audience heckling by Greg Lemond, previous tour winner who sat in the front row and questioned Armstrong about the legitimacy of his previous wins, and the testing for illegal performance enhancers during the years that he was TDF winner.

Lemond insisted twice during questions that Armstrong should be revealing his VO2 max, his historical VO2 to establish a baseline, and his current VO2 to determine if performance enhancers are being used.

Since 1997, the Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised more than $260 million to fight cancer.