American Cycling: Returning To Form

Mark AndersonContributor IJanuary 24, 2009

Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, Dara Torres and Lance Armstrong.  All are famous athletes who retired and then decided to take back their position as top-ranked athletes in their sport. 

Competitive athletes who achieve great success often find it hard to completely extinguish the competitive fires still burning inside, these elite stars made their own choice to retire, but some athletes are forced to retirement by way of injury or illness.  Still others are temporarily banned from their sport due to alleged doping. 

Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, accomplished stars of competitive cycling have both been banned from their sport due to doping-related suspensions and have plans to re-join competitive racing beginning with the upcoming Tour of California in mid-February. 

The difference, however, is that Landis and Basso never stopped training.  Each knew that they would be back and they decided to train hard in order to come back true to the accomplished form they had when they departed. 

Armstrong, on the other hand, had no plans to resume cycling for the three years he was absent.  He did find it difficult to completely turn off the competitive afterburners as he pursued long distance running in high profile races such as the New York and Boston Marathons.

Finally, in 2008, Armstrong announced his return to cycling.  Desires to once again wear the yellow jersey in the Tour De France combined with his goal to spread his Livestrong message in the fight against cancer, were more than enough to send the superstar back to the wind tunnel to train for his much-herald comeback attempt. 

At the age of 37, Armstrong may not be the oldest among riders, but certainly he is considered “old” in a sport dominated by youth.  Does he expect to regain his old form and take his eighth Tour De France crown?  Armstrong is realistic and says that he simply wants to give it his best shot with no predictions. 

Fans know that Lance Armstrong’s best shot is often more than enough to propel him above the field.  His best shot so far has been a notable effort through five stages of the Tour Down Under in Australia where he is actively testing his race-ready legs and “top end power”.  While admittedly not in final tuned form, Armstrong admits that racing is the only way to move beyond what solo training can offer. 

Can Landis and Basso regain their form?  All three will collide in the Tour of California and should make for an exciting event.

What should fans expect from the return of these elite athletes?  In the very least, each of these premier cyclists will generate enthusiasm and energy from not only the fans, but also other competitors.  The Armstrong factor alone has brought record attention to his race in Australia.  Other riders draw from the attention with goals to upstage the star. 

With the three stars coming to California next month, the race will likely take on a Tour De France aura in terms of crowds and press.  This energy will likely result in record performances, if not from the three returning stars, perhaps another victory for Levi Leipheimer.  The returning stars want to take back their status while Leipheimer wants to retain his California racing crown.