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Lance Armstrong returns to the Tour de France this weekend for the first time since he stood on the podium in Paris in 2005, seventh title in hand and said: “to the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics, I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”

Of Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, who shared the podium with him, Armstrong said: “You should believe in these athletes and you should believe in these people. There are no secrets – this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it.”

With less than a week to go until the start of the Tour de France, the promotional videos have hit the internet.

One, for Nike, I find particularly offensive. It appears to be suggesting that to question Armstrong’s legacy, to investigate his conduct, to speculate on his motivations and assess his performances is in some way an affront to cancer sufferers.

The Nike video can be seen here:

Over pictures of people who are clearly cancer sufferers, black and white shots of hospitals, and images of Armstrong in his Livestrong kit, he says: “The critics say I’m arrogant. A doper. I’m washed up. A fraud. That I couldn’t let it go. They can say whatever they want. I’m not back on my bike for them.”

It’s not exactly a subtle message and it seems to be saying: If you’re against Armstrong you must be pro-cancer.

Well, I’m not pro-cancer at all. But I am also not in favour of a sporting event – or an entire sport come to that – becoming a single issue campaign for a man with a mounting stack of grudges.

Cycling seems to have become all about cancer. Well, cycling is not about cancer. Yellow, the colour of the Tour de France’s maillot jaune, has been hijacked by Livestrong.

I’d like Armstrong to explain how the words that voice over the Nike ad do anything to draw attention to the plight of cancer sufferers. If Armstrong truly didn’t care about the critics, he wouldn’t have mentioned them in his video.

If he really didn’t care about the critics, he’d have made a positive, upbeat video all about how he was coming back to the Tour de France to encourage and inspire, rather than score points and convince his already convinced army of acolytes.

But no. It’s about divide and conquer, fool some of the people all of the time and paint the rest as freaks and oddballs with imagined agendas and made-up conspiracies.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. There are still some enormous questions to be answered.

I’d respect Armstrong if he kept his charity – Livestrong – and his for-profit work a lot more separate. Or perhaps you can tell when you’re on his charity website and when you’re not.

I’d respect him if he in turn respected the race and its competitors instead of branding the 2008 edition a joke.

If Armstrong thinks that a good 2009 Tour de France will answer all the questions about the 1999-2005 era he’s mistaken. It’ll take a lot more than a slick video and pithy script.

For all his dislike of cynics, I’ve not seen a more cynical promotional video than the one served up this week.

Shane Sutton appeared to let slip to the BBC last week that a handful of British riders have already pledged their allegiance to Team Sky, which will take to the roads next season.

The British Cycling coach claims there was a misunderstanding, but regular readers of Cycling Weekly and this website will not have been surprised by many of the names Sutton named.

Look at the evidence. The Barloworld riders Steve Cummings and Geraint Thomas are near certainties for Sky because their team looks set to fold at the end of the year. You can include Chris Froome as another Barloworld rider who’s likely to be Sky-bound too.

But the cases of David Millar and Bradley Wiggins are less clear-cut. Wiggins joined Garmin from Columbia last year because Garmin offered a two-year contract to Columbia’s one. Jonathan Vaughters has already said Wiggins is going nowhere. Millar’s contract as a rider does expire at the end of this season but he is a part-owner of the Garmin team, although that perhaps owes something to the fact that until recently he was paying off a sizeable tax bill in France. His sister, Frances, is part of the logistics team at Sky and has been working on setting up the team’s headquarters, which is set to be in Mechelen near Brussels.

Every British rider able to turn a pedal will be linked with the team, but CW understands that in the first year, eight or nine of the riders will be British. The likes of first year pros Ben Swift (Katusha) and Ian Stannard (ISD) will be in the frame too. There is a UCI rule stating that new professionals have to be offered two-year contracts at the very start of their career (to avoid teams chewing up and spitting out large numbers of young riders if they fail to make an impact in year one) although there is bound to be a get-out clause.

Swift has done superbly at Katusha, but after two positive dope tests in the team this season (Christian Pfannberger and Antonio Colom) he’d be far better off elsewhere.

You’d expect Peter Kennaugh – who looks more and more like The Real Deal with every passing month – to turn professional with Team Sky this winter. True, the 20-year-old could continue with the British Cycling Academy for another year, but the two organisations will share staff, infrastructure and ethos, and he knows Rod Ellingworth well, so it’d make more sense for him to step up a level.

And then there are the foreign riders. Scott Sunderland told CW recently that if every rider who’d been linked to Team Sky actually signed a contract, they’d have a hundred riders.

What we do know is that some contracts have already been signed, and that the contract runs to a whopping 26 pages, including all manner of details regarding expected conduct. The more you hear, you get the sense that anti-doping is not a PR buzz phrase with Team Sky, it’s at the bedrock. Brailsford and co are being thorough with a capital T. Of course, they can never be certain, but they are looking deeply into a rider’s past and present. We understanding that so far, a number of riders have heard the words ‘thanks but no thanks’ after Team Sky has made its investigations.

The Tour de France is where deals get done for the following year, so the speculation is about to reach fever pitch. Team Sky will have people at the Tour and they must know that if any of them are spotted talking, the rumour mill will crank into over-drive.

Team Sky – As It Happens Follow the news and rumours as Team Sky takes place here>>

Catching up on the excitement of the National Championships, it was a shame to see Nicole Cooke’s 10th title overshadowed by a ham-fisted adherence to a bizarre rule which almost saw Lizzie Armitstead denied the silver medal.

Armitstead is 20 and so was eligible for the under-23 title, which was also up for grabs.

As an under-23, the chief commissaire Colin Clews studied the rules and took the decision that Armitstead was eligible for that race, not the senior race.

The thing is, the UCI doesn’t actually have an under-23 category for women at the World Championships, so the under-23 title is something of a British Cycling created invention.

Recognising the best three young riders in the race is definitely a good thing, but not if it means that a rider is denied the prize in the senior event.

So, Emma Pooley (who was third) was ‘promoted’ to second and Catherine Williamson was presented with the senior bronze medal on the podium before a British Cycling board, led by Brian Cookson, over-ruled Clews and said that Armitstead would get her silver medal. That was the correct decision, but it raises the issue of how the confusion arose.

A few years back William Walker won the Australian road race championships but as he was under-23 the senior title and jersey went to third-placed Russell Van Hout. (The second placed rider Wesley Sulzberger was also an under-23). Older readers may remember when Robert Millar won the British title on the Isle of Man in 1995, the National Championships and the Manx International doubled up as one race.

A French team was invited to take part and Pierre Painaud of France was third behind Millar and Chris Walker. Obviously the National Championship bronze medal did not go to a foreign rider, fourth placed Chris Lillywhite got it instead. These days, the field for the British Championships is so huge there’s no space for foreign teams, of course.

Fortunately there was no such confusion on Sunday and under-23 champion Peter Kennaugh got the bronze medal for finishing third in the race. I imagine the rules will have been clarified by now but put simply it should say: if the top three riders are British they get the gold, silver and bronze medals. End of story.

Quick Step look set to take Tom Boonen all the way to the start line in Monaco, fully kitted up and ready to go, before someone steps in to stop him.

A French court was asked to rule on the dispute between ASO, organisers of the Tour de France, and the Belgian rider.

If you recall, Boonen, who has won the green jersey in the past, missed last year’s Tour after testing positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test. While that was not grounds to suspend him, the Tour’s organisers requested that Quick Step did not select Boonen in order to spare the race any embarrassment.

History repeated itself when Boonen again tested positive – again out-of-competition – for cocaine this spring. Although it was subsequently declared the traces were minute, ASO has decided the Belgian is not welcome.

Quick Step, who stand to profit if Boonen rides, wins a stage and challenges for the green jersey, is less willing to see its star asset sitting at home for a second successive July, hence the dispute.

Yesterday a judge at a civil court in the Parisian suburb Nanterre, listened to both sides of the case and declared the matter outside the court’s jurisdiction. No verdict was made.

So, Quick Step has named eight of its nine riders for the Tour, with either Boonen or Australian sprinter Allan Davis to take the ninth place.

It seems that ASO will stand firm and bar Boonen and wait for the backlash. Unless the Court of Arbitration for Sport can intervene in three days, there could be some angry exchanges in Monte Carlo on Saturday.

At least Caisse d’Epargne did the decent thing and left Alejandro Valverde out of their final nine.

Many people who seek to find ever-elaborate ways to apologise for dopers often resort to the letter of the law.

Innocent until proven guilty is absolutely right, but it seems at times that the burden of proof required in a simple case of determining whether a sports person is guilty of cheating is greater than that required in a criminal case.

Beyond reasonable doubt, says the law.

Well, as far as the Italian Olympic Committee is concerned, there is no doubt whatsoever that Valverde’s blood was in bag number 18 seized in the Operacion Puerto investigation. They took a sample of Valverde’s blood, matched it and banned him for two years.

The UCI has been spared the tedious task of actually making a decision on Valverde by Caisse d’Epargne’s team management. Still there has been no word on whether the two-year ban should be extended worldwide.

Valverde has appealed to the Court of Arbitration of Sport. We wait to see on what grounds Valverde is appealing but surely in this case the only issue at stake is whether it is his blood. That shows the rules have been broken and a ban is warranted.

It seems astonishing that Silence-Lotto have selected Thomas Dekker, but left out Charly Wegelius.

Before anyone levels the accusation that this is pro-British bias, take a look at Dekker’s results. A rider once touted as the next big Dutch hope was fourth in the Tour of Belgium and 16th in the Tour of Switzerland. Good results, but not great.

Can he be there in the mountains for Cadel Evans? You wouldn’t think so.

Mind you, his Tour place may yet be up for grabs because he was struck down with food poisoning at the Dutch national championships at the weekend.

And Cervélo raised a few eyebrows by leaving Simon Gerrans on the sidelines. The Australian has had a great spring and won a stage of the Giro d’Italia. Last year he won a Tour stage at Prato Nevoso in the Alps.

You can’t help wondering if popping to the United States to train with Lance Armstrong might not have gone down too well with defending champion and Cervélo team-mate Carlos Sastre.


Cycling Weekly’s Comment section

  • James Murphy

    Mr Bernie, Michele (and a couple other posters),
    You are projecting (ascribing) yourself onto Lance Armstrong — that is illogical and dangerous — you cannot condemn him or others based upon your own personal attributes, thoughts, and/or emotions.

  • Frank

    You obviously didn’t understand the commercial. Did you notice how every single cancer patient had someone by their side helping them…. Lance is just one more person trying to help, he is riding for them. Yeah, its a Nike commercial so they are going to put their symbol in there, but it is minimized and the patients are the focus. I found the commercial inspirational and goosebump inducing.

  • veloattack

    I find it amazing how you euros can’t stand to see an American dominate any sport you formerly owned. Focus on this: Lance riding up to Ulrich on the steep mountain pitch and challenging him to go. If you don’t remember this moment, I will tell you what happened next. Lance blew past him with a grim smile and Ulrich blew sky high trying to go with him. Or do you remember a crash on tight downhill curves forcing lance off the road, cyclocross style, only to re-join the same group on the next turn! This is the “hammer” you think is old and feeble. If the Badger did the same, you would honor him like a cycle god. But lance is merely an American. Quit being so obdurate in your single minded nationalism.

    Oh yea, I will return to gloat after the tour. Lance will shred all in his last tour!

    P.S.= Please pardon my passion for this sport; perhaps I should join the Italian Tifosi!

  • lak1

    I just think cycling needs to move forward. Did he didnt he doesnt matter. I am in the UK I have a rare cancer so its not worth NHS treating me. Through Lance’s foundation I have become informed and have recieved help from US doctors and US charities I like the fact that every second of my life matters to LAF whereas in my own healthcare system trying to prolong my disablity free time and life does not matter the disease is to rare to matter the majority of us are not informed and once ill die swiftly and quietly.
    I never watched Lance cycle before he retired, I avidly watched Alberto fight against Rasmussen. I want either Lance or Alberto to win and I thnk they are both professional enough to sort it out and promote the stronger riders goal and time will tell. If they do not work together then neither will win and their team will lose.
    If Lance doped for his last TDF win then I think he would have to have doped this time in which case he will probably be caught. I do not see any of the other dopers who have come back after bans reaching the same form that Lance has in a few months.
    As someone with a cancer from which I have high chance of dying, as a dr who still sees stage 4 testicular patients die having been offered palliative care and not intention to cure treatment I think we Brits need to respect those who try more(is it 14 years since someone let Lance try instead of patting him on the head and holding his hand). Some people would rather die trying than just accept fate thats what we should learn from Lance. Those who accept fate are not wrong but neither are those who have to try its down to personality. They say more Brits died on the Titanic because they queued, its time we wised up.
    When it s your turn to be told to go home and die you are too rare to be worth treating then maybe you will be able to tell the Livestrong Foundation website from the comericail website or maybe you ll just give up and die quietly and at little expense to the NHS.
    I just wanna watch a good TDF enjoy the sport catch cheats with +ve tests and Livestrong.

  • EJ

    It nice to see that Elizabeth aka Besty A. has once again continued her personal war against Lance.
    As for the article, well it is nice we live in a country where we can express our opinions no matter how outrageous and off base they are.

  • jrmurphyll

    Michele, You and your lot should not be so foolish and presumptuous as to judge others based on your own wicked and evil character.

  • Michele

    Excellent post. Armstrong has repeatedly used the suffering of cancer victims as a shield, and now, to make a buck with the deceptive The man is a doper and a fraud.

  • Matt

    You’re an ass. Simple as that. Lance has gotten nike to donate 100% of their profits form his collection to cancer. Name another person or company making that commitment. I propose you give 100% of your advertising dollars to LAF or a cancer program and then you can cast a stone. Otherwise, take your asinine commentary out on someone else.

  • Matt

    Come on, please. Every rider has to push their ‘special angle’ to the press to maximise coverage for their sponsor/cause. Armstrong’s angle is bigger than most and you can’t change that. Let the guy ride and stop rubbishing him.

  • denis

    We do not have to go to Iran or north korea for internet censorship,you don’t show my comments on your sad journalist writing the article about lance,I said he was a moron,well get a life and stop being bitter and miserable!! You are worth nothing and never will buy again your cheap mag

  • Lance

    My advise to everyone that reads this pile of shit – time to change to a decent publication.

    Dude you have a serious chip on your block regarding Lance Armstrong. DROP IT ASSHOLE!!

  • CSprenkel

    Guaranteed this guy wouldn’t hate on Lance if he were from the UK. Though, not a shocking piece of work from Cycling Weekly, as they are continuously taking jabs at Lance. And for that reason I will never subscribe to the otherwise likeable magazine. Side note; how much do you reckon Cycling Weekly is getting paid by Chris Boardman for all the pristine write-ups on his bikes?

  • Diggers

    On you Wednesday round up….where is the mention of the men’s winner of the national road race champion….what’s his name again??????

    National championships are big news….or is it me!

    Come on cycling fair play, does Armstrong really need that much space??

    yours hopefully….a cycling fan

  • Glen

    I disagree with your opinion regarding the Nike/Armstrong/Cancer piece. I think it is extremely narrow-minded to think that “if you’re against Armstrong you must be pro-cancer”; frankly, it’s absurd to think those are the only two options as any reasonable person could discern.

    And how does one “hijack” a colour, exactly?

  • Elizabeth

    Excellent excellent commentary. Armstrong uses cancer as his shield from which he hides. He’s extremely offensive and to many in the cancer community some who have told me that they see he uses his cancer to advance his own agenda. It’s brilliant really: question him about his alleged doping and it turns to the important issue of cancer. If you’re a journalist and you want him to answer questions forget it – you’ll be labeled “inept” and “c-level” as he did of the WSJ reporter; “gutter press” as he called Le Monde newspaper; and “tabloid” of L’Equipe. Armstrong refuses to answer the many many questions which arose from the SCA lawsuit. Why has he always brushed it off as “old” and “wanting to move forward”?
    Armstrong has benefitted from the inept American media who rather get the story than be blacklisted. He benefits that cycling is a relatively unknown sport in the states as well.
    As someone who buried a member of my family from cancer not to long ago, I’m sickened by how he uses such a despicable disease for his own personal gain.

  • Chris

    As usual – a good read – and a constructive & informative view upon the weeks key issues. Regarding the inches the author (continually) affords Lance – while much of what Armstrong does for his charity and cancer awareness is truly commendable, Birnie is quite right to stand firm in the fast-flowing river, and provide a ‘check’ on cycling’s headline act. Keeping Armstrong’s achievements (unrivalled -arguably!), influence (enormous) and actions (earnest) in perspective and under scrutiny is good for our sport.

  • Dave

    The Lance Armstrong article seems to be full of personal opinion and certainly can’t be classed as unbiased reporting. My personal opinion is that you have a personal dislike of the man and regularly allow that to colour any article published about him.
    Its not big and it isn’t clever… and doesn’t make very good reading either. I would expect a publication of CWs standing to demonstrate a certain amount of journalistic professionalism when it comes to these matters. Please stick to the facts and leave personal gripes out of it.

  • Dina

    Lionel Birnie’s comments about Lance this morning truly raise my hackles. As a person who has had more intimate experience with Cancer than I wish to elaborate upon here, I find the Nike video not only positive and upbeat, but downright inspirational. It’s not that Lance doesn’t care about his critics. Like anyone who has experienced Cancer – and looked the reaper that closely in the eye – his will to live has powerfully crystallized, and what is truly important has become paramount. Lance simply refuses to let his critics derail his mission and motivation, and this – in turn – fuels his critics more. What makes Lance Armstrong so successful is his unwillingless to compartmentalize the various facets of his life for the media. Just like “ordinary human beings” like Lionel Birnie and myself, Lance is a human being whose work, life, charity, and Cancer experience are inextricably tied – like it or not. And Yellow. The color Yellow is not owned any more by the Tour de France than Pink is owned by the Giro. Yellow is a color of Hope and Light, and thus it serves Livestrong’s mission perfectly. What underlies Lionel’s critique is a transparent blend of darkness and negativity that I find oppressive.

  • nick

    I wrote a post earlier but deleted because I thought it was just an over reaction but I pleased to see that there are other people who share my view, that Lionel Birnie is biased and over sensitive when the subject of a certain Mr Armstrong is concerned. I subscribe to CW but am getting saddened over the constant negative comments from him about everyones favourite / hated cyclist. Please for the love of god just provide us with balanced journalism rather than your personnal agenda / vendetta which is best kept for a beer down the pub with your mates. If you want to have a dig at someone take your head out of your backside and criticise a certain british cyclist who took drugs and sadly paid the ultimate sacrifice. I am still amazed of the double standards of the cycling press in this case this individual.

  • Steve

    If you were impartial, it would also show in your so-called journalism. Livestrong and LAF have helped more people than your sour attitude ever will. Get a life, and if you don’t like cycling for what it is, don’t watch.

  • Mark

    I find the commercial very inspirational. I am a cancer survivor and avid cyclist, and your comments are way off base. Many (probaby millions) of cancer patients who are fighting the disease right now see Armstrong as a beacon of hope I’m sure. And in regard to his negative influence on cycling, it appears to me that his presence has re-invigorated the sport. But, of course, people like you choose to attempt to find negativity and make criticisms, and that is really unfortunate. You should take a look in the mirror, as it appears that you have some serious shortcomings of your own. If you’re against Armstrong you must be pro-cancer? That’s a rediculous comment.

  • Thomas

    You would hate Lance Armstrong – even if he cured YOUR cancer….
    Face facts – he’s good for the sport overall.

  • Matthew Zullo

    What is wrong with you? Your argument against Armstrong defies logic. You just speculate and give opinion answers to your own questions. The money he makes is a fraction of what he has raised for the fight against cancer. You are very focused on the voice over in the aid but the images are much more powerful than the voice over. Raising 100s of millions of dollars to fight cancer and to raise cancer awareness is Lance Armstrong’s greatest accomplishment and is his true legacy. You have a lot to learn about humanity.

  • Mark

    I think you are misintepreting what the Nike ad is trying to say. It is saying he is back on his bike for the cancer community, it does not at all “seem to be saying: If you’re against Armstrong you must be pro-cancer.”

    You may be against Armstrong personally, but if you are against his plight then you are kind of pro-cancer. Question his legacy all you want, but those are personal feelings.

    And as for inquiring about how the ad draws attention to cancer sufferers, well it obviously drew the attention of the writer of this article, or it would not have been mentioned. Lance Armstrong has become synonymous with the fight against cancer.

  • Robert

    I read cycling weekly avidly every week. I’m a huge fan of CW but I find your coverage of Lance Armstrong to be both unbalanced and emotive. I think you need to move on and just follow the story (or even ignore the story). There are many positives and points of interest to his comeback but if you just constantly rain on the parade & endlessly deconstruct his media spots & PR (with an intensity that you reserve just for him) then you should realise that you are coming across as a bit obsessive and unduly negative.

  • Robert

    re: nike/ lance ad

    I do agree that the ad could have had a more positive tone to it. Journalists have a responsibility to question the motvies of celebrities. However I disagree with your assertion that “If you’re against Armstrong you must be pro-cancer.” You can’t be serious? Who in their right mind is pro-cancer? I’d say you’re much more sensitive to criticism than Armstrong is of the media and the legion of nay-sayers. To suggest that Armstrong’s motive is to paint his critics as pro-cancer is ridiculous.

  • Steve

    Your comments that you find the Nike Ad ‘ particularly offensive’ seem a little mean. Lance does have his doubters and he does have his faults but nobody can deny what he has done both for the profile of cancer sufferers and for cycling in general.
    If you follow Lance Armstrong you will see many sides to him and you will see what he has to put up with. You may know that one ‘respected’ journalist commented that ‘ the cancer has returned’. How vicious is that! Lets leave the guy get on with it shall we.
    I for one will be glued to Eurosport for the best part of July… I may even find time to ride my bike!