Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Armstrong has given us

As the whole sporting world knows, Lance Armstrong retired from professional cycling this week at the age of 39. He leaves as one of its most decorated cyclists, winning a record 7 Tour de France titles as well as countless other palmar├Ęs over his long career.

As he leaves, he continues to be shadowed by rumors and suspicions that he may have doped during his career. He is currently the subject of a federal investigation in the United States after allegations of doping leveled by former teammate Floyd Landis.

Whether he doped or not is beyond the scope of what I wanted to write about today and, in my opinion, what most people know or think they know. What I wanted to do today is  reflect on what Armstrong's presence in the sport has done beyond his individual achievements. Regardless of what happens (or doesn't happen) with any doping investigation, his contributions to the cycling world and the world at large are worth appreciating.

Armstrong broke into the professional ranks in 1992 with the Motorola team, a year after winning the U.S. Amateur Championships in 1991. He was one of the most heralded young cyclists in recent memory and his early achievements confirmed his prowess on the bike. In 1993, he won 10 events and began a career that many of us would follow for more than a decade and a half.
  • Armstrong's single greatest contribution has nothing to do with cycling. It has to do with his work to increase cancer awareness and research. Say what you want about the little yellow wristbands (this is where I disagree with Rule 51), but those Livestrong bands have literally raised millions of dollars to fight cancer. Regardless of what happens with his cycling career, he has made an incredible impact on a disease that will affect virtually all of us in some way. For that, he is a hero to many.
  • Cycling is still somewhat of a "fringe" sport. Not as widely accepted as baseball or even tennis here in the U.S. Somewhat more accepted than curling. But cycling in the U.S. has begun to boom over the past decade, largely due to the success of Armstrong on the bike. All around the country, more and more people are taking to two wheels.
  • There is a very interesting article on Velonews about Armstrong's effect on the bike technology. The adoption of carbon fiber frames, aerodynamic time trial bikes, new geometries, tube shapes, and wheel designs are all linked to Armstrong's interest in applied technologies. In fact, his F-One group (consisting of some of the most respected bike tech names in the industry) drove many of the innovations which we still enjoy today.
  • And finally, he has given us some of the most exciting and enduring races that we can remember. Two of my favorites are included here... his attack of Alpe d'Huez in the 2001 TdF and his amazing time trial in the 2005 TdF. Enjoy!

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