What kind of legacy has Lance really left?
EAGLE COUNTY – The question isn’t so much what Lance Armstrong has done for the sport of cycling. Depending on who you ask, it’s what he has done for the universe.After retiring from cycling on a note that was about as good as it gets, locals in the cycling industry have mixed reflections on the most important thing Armstrong has contributed to the sport. One thing most agreed upon is that, in many ways, cycling is inconsequential to his existence and to the mark he’s made.”He survived cancer. That says enough right there,” said Brian Deem, hockey manager at Venture Sports in Avon who claimed he’s “not the guy to talk to about cycling.””He’s an inspiration to everything in your own life that doesn’t have anything to do with road biking,” Deem said. “If I ever had cancer, I think it would be a way for me to fight it and get back on the ice and play ice hockey. A lot of people who have cancer just give up. He didn’t do that. He’s an inspiration for human beings in general.”For Armstrong, some say the Tour de France might simply be a vessel of communication for his larger purpose.”Think about what this guy has done not winning the Tour de France,” said Bruce Kelly, owner of Pedal Power in Eagle-Vail. “You think about what he’s done, when in 1996, this guy was given a 20 percent chance to live. To come back and live this life … For some reason, people are picked out. Maybe Lance was picked, not to cure cancer, but to give cancer victims hope. Maybe that’s what Lance Armstrong is really all about.”
Purely inconsequential to his cause of giving hope and fighting cancer, Armstrong has also inadvertently launched a large fashion campaign.”Look at the yellow bracelets,” said Deem, referring to the “Livestrong” bracelets that Armstrong introduced about a year and a half ago to raise money for cancer survivors, education and research. According to Nike, which manufactures the $1 bracelets, more than 50 million have been sold worldwide. “We sold out of the yellow bracelets like two months after we got them and we still had people coming to the store a year later asking for yellow bracelets,” Deem said.”I would say about 80 percent of the people who buy them don’t know much about Lance Armstrong,” added Venture’s Farnham St. John.World’s most famous cyclistWhen it comes down to it, we must admit that Armstrong has also contributed a few things to the sport of cycling – from a business standpoint, a product standpoint and a participation and interest standpoint.”Between him and Trek, they’ve raised the bar on all their competitors with better products and better bikes,” Kelly said. “Trek was the frontrunner in carbon fiber technology.”
In short, when Armstrong signed a contract with Trek in 1998, standards of technology skyrocketed along with his career.”Because Trek was pushed to produce bikes to improve the technology for Lance, in order to recoup that R and D, they took that same bike and made it available to the public the next year,” said Dawes Wilson, president of Trail Action Group. “Now, for $2,000, you can buy a complete bike that has the exact same frame that he raced on three years ago. For $7,000, you can buy the bike he raced on last year.”While most U.S. families probably didn’t make a point to tune into the Tour de France over the seven years that Armstrong reigned champion, Armstrong was responsible for putting the sport and the race on the American sports radar.”He’s popularized it,” Wilson said. “A lot of people – my mother who doesn’t really follow cycling at all – knew that he won the Tour. So, it’s bringing cycling to the attention of people who would have never attended to it before. When (Greg) LeMond won the Tour (in 1986, ’89 and ’90), they never heard of him. More people have heard of ‘a’ cyclist. That’s a change. When I grew up, there was no cycling on TV ever.”In addition to raising the bar on bike technology, some people feel Armstrong also raised the bar on athletic evolution.”I think whenever there’s a sports hero who’s accomplished great things, it gives people a new sense of the possible,” Wilson said. “It took years for anyone to run a 4-minute mile. Then, when the first person did it, a bunch of other people did it. Now, there are people in high school who can run a 4-minute mile. That sort of achievement has the same sort of inspiration and a new sense of the possible to everyone that participates.”
And the successor will be …So, in that vein, will there ever be another Lance Armstrong?”I don’t know if anyone thought there would be a Lance Armstrong,” Kelly said. “To say that there’s not going to be another Michael Jordan, to say there’s not going to be another Muhammad Ali, there’s not going to be another Jack Nicklaus … Now we have another Jack Nicklaus. I don’t think that’s a good thing to say. We take Lance and what he’s accomplished. He’s going to be put out there for someone to try to duplicate or exceed. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron … all the icons of sports that supposedly, we’re never going to see again. But we seem to see them again. It may take a while.”In Lance’s case, it might be a long while.”Another 7-time winner? I don’t think there’s going to be another 7-time winner for a long, long time,” Wilson said. “That’s a bit freakish. I first heard of Armstrong when he was a 14-year-old triathlete beating top pros. He was always a mutation.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado