Lance Armstrong's superhero status appears intact as as preparations for glamorous fundraiser continue


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The Independent US

There is little sign, from the stiff yellow invitations currently atop some the smartest mantelpieces in Texas, that Lance Armstrong's superhero status has been even slightly diminished.

Next Friday, in Exhibit Hall 3 of the Austin Convention Center, the world's most famous cyclist will hold court at a glamorous fundraiser attended by Hollywood stars, chart-topping musicians, and glamorous pillars of high Society.

The event, which marks the 15th anniversary of Mr Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation, will be hosted by the actors Sean Penn and Ben Stiller, along with former steroid abuser Arnold Schwarzenegger's estranged wife, Maria Shriver.

Robin Williams will perform a stand-up comedy set, while Norah Jones and Stephen Marley will play music. The dress code is “casually formal.” Tickets start at $500-a-head [£310], though for a mere $100k [£62.5k] you and 16 guests will get a VIP experience which involves posing for a photo with Mr Armstrong, and taking home autographed “Livestrong” t-shirts.

The scale and sheer ambition of the event is testament to the fact that, despite everything, Mr Armstrong still boasts an enduring hold over a hard core of celebrity admirers and loyal fans.

America is a nation that believes in rules. But it also places great store in the legal process. And many supporters continue to argue that Mr Armstrong should be considered innocent until proven guilty, in a court of law.

The sentiment is particularly prevalent in Texas, the State where Mr Armstrong grew up, in a broken household, and the place that he still calls home. To many locals, in this independently-minded corner of the world, he is also the victim of a “witch-hunt” by big, bad, federal authorities.

Regardless of whether he really does happen to be a drug cheat, other loyal fans also argue that Mr Armstrong should nonetheless still be celebrated as an inspirational figure whose fight against cancer has touched millions.

Their mood was captured this week by Lee Leffingwell, the Mayor of Austin (and a keen cycling enthusiast) who is expected to be among the glamorous hordes next Friday.

“I am proud of my friendship with Lance Armstrong,” he told reporters. “His incredible generosity of spirit has been and remains an inspiration to me and countless others, and can never be taken away. I'll ride bikes with Lance Armstrong any day.”