Lance Armstrong's Return to Cycling Elicits Mixed Feelings

Onno KluytContributor IMarch 6, 2009

Lance Armstrong's return: I can't decide how I feel.

Purely on the physiological side, I am impressed. Gone for three years and able to finish in the top 10 of the Tour of California, ride well in the hilly stages as well as the time trial...

Sure, he didn't exactly vegetate during those three years, what with the marathon running. And he did comparatively better than other returnees in that race (Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis). 

To see him ride against some of the stars that have risen during his absence, such as Contador, Valverde, and the Schleck brothers, is exciting. To see him in a supporting role like in the Tour of California to Leipheimer is cool, too, if only because this is a new experience for Armstrong as well.

To see him ride in the upcoming spring classics (the Giro in May) is very exciting as well.

But that is the same time when the friction starts for me.

If nothing else, it gives me a sense of regret. Regret that he didn't ride those races when for sure he was in his prime, when for sure he was focused on winning. To have seen him compete tete-a-tete against Museeuw in Paris-Roubaix, in the Tour of Flanders, against Rebellin and Bettini in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

I understand why Armstrong didn't: Everything was focused on winning the Tour de France and if he had done those races he may not have won those seven times.

Yes. But still.

That Armstrong is racing again should be good for the sport here in the States. Leipheimer's, Zabriskie's, Hincapie's great performances notwithstanding, the general public doesn't know them.

The Tour of California had its biggest turnout this year; it is safe to conclude that it is all due to Lance Armstrong. But is the increased interest going to the sport or just to the phenomenon that is Lance Armstrong?

As an example, CNN Headline News reported that Armstrong's time trial bike was stolen. They didn't say anything about the race itself. Also, earlier in Australia there were huge audiences with Armstrong being the main attraction and the bike race being the supporting podium.

Looking ahead, though, July should be a most exciting month. Astana's got an incredibly strong team. Leipheimer, Contador, and Kloden can all win this race—if not also that one battle-hardened warrior from Texas.

The team play itself will be a spectacle. What will Johan Bruyneel do, when, during the race, first one, and then another, of the quartet seems strongest? Livestrong or no, Astana and fellow sponsors will want that yellow jersey if it can be had.

Will Valverde or Evans or Schleck (either one) or Mentsov, or someone we don't know yet, take advantage of any internal competition within Astana just like Armstrong did with the T-Mobile team?

And before then we get to see Lance Armstrong ride, at last, Milan-Sanremo, Castilla y Leon, the Giro and hopefully some of the classics.