Lance Armstrong comeback v3.0 – sport is forgiving, but will time heal these wounds?

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“I want to hate it, but I’m loving it,” is the way most of my conversations start off when I ask someone if they’ve been listening to Lance Armstrong’s daily Tour de France podcast, entitled Stages.

Lance Armstrong’s reinvention, and return to cycling, has already begun. And it’s worth paying attention to. This is happening, whether you like it or not, and this is just the start.

And although it may not be the popular thing for me to say on the internet, it’s been my daily guilty pleasure as well. As you might expect, it’s good. Very good.

As it turns out, Armstrong is just as good at talking about cycling as he was at winning bike races.

But for Lance to come walking back into the sport that he helped put into such turmoil, as if he had no part in it, is far too soon for many fans. In my experience however, these people are actually few and far between. The echo chamber of the internet has a way of making the vitriol towards Armstrong sound much larger than it is. I’ve yet to speak to someone in person who holds onto this sentiment.

We’ve already seen Lance Armstrong comeback v2.0, and now he’s well on his way to reinventing himself in v3.0.

Lance’s first public interview I can recall is where he spoke about cycling was the Joe Rogan show in 2015. It was a soft and sympathetic target aimed at the mainstream, not cycling fans. But the cycling fans listened. Shortly after, Lance began to take a gentle step towards recycling his image on his weekly podcast, The Forward, just over a year ago. The name reflects that Armstrong has moved on, and in many ways the sport of cycling has moved on too. Lance rarely spoke about cycling, but every time he did he was quick to point out that it was the first time he’d spoken about cycling on the show.

As he had done before, this was his first step at taking control of his own story and re-writing it. And this time he is a man with well and truly nothing to lose.

For the duration of this Tour de France I’m one of the many who have been quietly enjoying Armstrong’s return to pro cycling. There are lots of excellent cycling podcasts out there that recap the racing, but when Lance gives his opinion based on his own experience, that’s insight that nobody else can offer.

For all his wrongs, he still experienced seven Tour wins* and offers a fresh perspective that we’ve never heard from him before. And he’s going about it in a way where he’s candid, he’s able to laugh at himself and the absurdity of this sport. If you haven’t seen his so-called anonymous interviews in the new HBO mockumentary, “Tour de Pharmacy,” it’s a lighthearted and self-deprecating side of him we haven’t seen before. This is not the Lance Armstrong we once knew.

Just like v2.0 where photographer Liz Kreutz intimately documented his comeback, she appears to be doing something similar here. But this time it’s not Lance getting back into sizzling form with a vengeance for a return to the Tour de France. This time it’s an older, wiser, happier looking Armstrong (with still a hint of asshole) outside of his previous celebrity bubble, now positioned as a man of the people who connects with the public.

The podcast isn’t aimed at us, the cycling enthusiast. Podcasts don’t make the iTunes top 10 charts by targeting our niche (Stages has 300,000 daily listeners). The host JB Hager is clearly throwing questions to Lance that helps translate the sport to the casual fan. However, it still resonates with me, the die hard fan, because of his story that we’ve all been following for years. To hear stories, analysis and opinion come from Lance’s mouth carries enormous weight.

Just like Robbie McEwen’s expert commentary alongside Matthew Keenan on the Tour de France TV coverage, when McEwen has something to say about a sprint finish, we listen carefully because he’s experienced it like very few of us have, and has excelled at it.

It’s hard to imagine the ASO associating itself with Lance after their checkered history, but I have little doubt he’ll find his place somewhere in the core of the sport with the biggest stage imaginable.

For years now I’ve wondered how history would remember Lance Armstrong. His list of rescinded titles and awards are long but with his quick re-introduction into the sport, and by taking control of his own story, he is headed towards the centre of cycling once again with his sins forgotten and forgiven, whether we like it or not.

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