The one with Armstrong, Hincapie, Cav, Wiggo, Ullrich and Bruyneel

A meeting of minds in Mallorca.

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Look at the above image. You feel something about the above image, don’t you? It would be impossible not to.

“Why are you still giving Armstrong oxygen?” some people will comment underneath this article. “Stop being mean to Lance!” others will type. But every so often the world’s most disqualified Tour de France winner pops his head up and is impossible to ignore.

The scene depicted in the picture is bizarre. The people in the photo are aware of how bizarre it is. How it’s the cycling equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How it makes absolute sense and also no sense whatsoever at the exact same time, perfectly encapsulating everything that is cycling.

From left to right: Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Jan Ullrich, Johan Bruyneel. Like playing FIFA Ultimate Team on lycra mode. Arise, Sir Wiggo and Cav. Take your seats at the round table, the latest companions of Lance-sells-products-on-his-pod-a-lot.

Remember that magazine cover of Kim Kardashian depicting her holding a champagne bottle with the corked popped and the drink arching over her head and landing in a glass delicately balanced on her behind? Or the Ellen DeGeneres selfie from the Oscars? This is the peloton version of those that broke cycling’s small corner of the internet.

To explain what is going on in plain terms, this is a recording of Lance Armstrong’s ‘The Move’ podcast, which you might remember from such follies as the imaginary partnership it had with the Tour de France this summer. They’re recording from a restaurant bar in Mallorca, where Armstrong is currently hosting the 2022 edition of ‘THEMOVE Mallorca’. In essence, it’s a five-day cycling holiday with Lance Armstrong and friends that will set you back upwards of $30,000. A bargain. Both Cavendish and Wiggins have been out on rides with the crew as well as doing the podcast, and it’s unclear whether the pair are present as guests (paid or unpaid) or just happened to be on the Spanish island at the same time.

So, what to make of it?

To begin, it’d be weird to be have an overly strong emotion about people hanging out with other people, especially ones you don’t know that well. But the choice to appear on the podcast, a Lance Armstrong media product, freely available to all and watched or listened to by an audience in the tens of thousands, as well as willingly being plastered all over Armstrong’s social media, is another thing. Whatever your personal opinion on Lance Armstrong (and to a lesser extent the likes of Hincapie and Bruyneel), all of the people on the sofa are retired pros. Except, that is, for Mark Cavendish.

Once you leave the pro peloton behind you have less skin in the game and aren’t held to account as much as those still representing teams, countries, and themselves on international stages. Which is why Mark Cavendish’s inclusion is odd. This sort of association doesn’t happen very often with cycling’s persona non grata and it’s Cavendish’s second appearance after he was a guest on the show during this summer’s Tour de France.

The 45-minute episode itself begins with an interesting exchange between Armstrong and Cavendish.

“How many stage wins you got so far?” the Texan asks the Brit.

“Many,” Cavendish responds.

“No, you. In the Tour,” Armstrong clarifies.

“Me?!” Cavendish balks. “I thought you meant we.”

“Well, we might get to we,” Armstrong says.

“34, Lance,” Cavendish finally answers.

Indeed, how many Tour de France stage wins the entire cast holds between them is a question with varying answers, depending on who you ask.

Armstrong, his alpha-maleness ever intact, makes for an intriguing interviewer of Cavendish, who squirms when asked about his two least favourite topics: his number of Tour de France stage wins and whether he’ll be returning to the race.

“If you had to say,” Armstrong pries, “we’re [sic] going back [to the Tour]?”

“I hope so, yeah,” Cavendish fidgets in his seat. While he could [and probably would] give a regular member of the media a bollocking or the silent treatment for asking these questions, it’s harder to treat Armstrong the same way on his own podcast, especially with the other guests next to him on the sofa.

“If you go,” Armstrong continues, not breaking stride. “Do you break the record?”

“Well…I reckon so, yeah, yeah,” Cavendish huffs and puffs. “Are you kidding me?! Yeah!”

“If you’d put him on the start line this year he would have broken it,” Wiggins interjects.

“The day I don’t think I can win I stop, I don’t carry on next year,” Cavendish finishes.

The one thing Armstrong doesn’t press Cavendish on is his plans for next year, but it seems apparent that the Manxman does have a team lined up for the 2023 season.

Which brings the question, how does that team feel about such a public association with the man stripped of seven Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for life? Especially if Cavendish ends up (as heavily rumoured) at the French B&B Hotels set-up, which is due a new title sponsor in supermarket giant Carrefour (and subsequent sizeable cash injection). That squad also relies on a wildcard invitation to the Tour from organisers ASO, who once said that Armstrong had “embarrassed the Tour de France”.

Maybe it’s not that deep, maybe it’s just a cycling holiday and a podcast appearance. But endorsements such as these from popular figures within cycling like Cavendish and Wiggins no doubt help Armstrong rehabilitate his image, something that many will find hard to digest.

All that aside, the podcast is as wild as you’d expect.

Armstrong says he’s going to get Bradley Wiggins’ knighthood taken away from him after a debauched night of drinking the previous evening (Wiggins does appear appropriately hungover) while Jan Ullrich offers up some sage advice to the new world champion Remco Evenepoel: “The first thing I would say is not too many parties in the winter. That was always my thing.”

Then there are moments where Lance is just Lance. Discussing Evenepoel, Armstrong remarks “who hasn’t googled his girlfriend?” before adding in some definitely unpublishable allegations about Alexander Vinokourov and the 2012 Olympics road race, which produces grimaces from Wiggins and Cavendish and guffaws from Ullrich and Bruyneel.

“We might edit that out, too,” Armstrong considers. “I don’t know.”

We then hear a tidbit that Amazon are currently making a documentary about Ullrich, set for release at the end of 2023, before an anecdote from Hincapie follows.

“We had some good times,” he says to Cavendish. “My favourite was 2009 Milan-Sanremo…”

“You pushed him up the Cipressa,” Wiggins interrupts.

“Come on!” moans Cavendish.

Lance chimes in: “He was holding onto the car, he didn’t need a push,” to which Cavendish bristles.

Finally, Hincapie finishes his story: “He was putting self-tanner on his legs before Milan-Sanremo…”

“Looked good didn’t it,” says Cavendish.

In between the endless product shilling and Armstrong’s incessant bravado, it’s quite a watchable three quarters of an hour. After warming up, Wiggins hits his stride, teasing Cavendish relentlessly, impersonating his mannerisms, telling stories of his former teammate wearing velvet loafers and drinking Bacardi “just for show,” tales you can’t know for sure whether they’re true but are believable enough to make Cavendish squirm with embarrassment. Once Cavendish eventually hangs up the bike, the pair would make a dynamite media duo.

This is the conundrum that is Lance Armstrong. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of his admittance to Oprah Winfrey that he had doped throughout his career, it’s still impossible to completely ignore the Texan. The intrigue persists and his pull to put together the cast he has in Mallorca on one sofa, which has produced rare genuine insight from the likes of Cavendish and Wiggins, is compelling.

And don’t worry, if you missed the Mallorca trip there’s another one happening in November to Colombia with more special guests in tow. Time to dig out that spare $30k you dropped down the back of the couch.