Cycling: Armstrong's exit leaves Planet Tour without glamour or centre of gravity

Retirement of American legend after seventh successive Tour victory will leave a gaping void, writes Alasdair Fotheringham

For one of them, Lance Armstrong, the victory lap has lasted for three weeks. Cynics might add that this Tour, his chosen way of bowing out from one of cycling's most memorable careers, has become little more than a 3,600-kilometre ego trip.

In fact, rather than Armstrong becoming part of the Tour's history, so successful has he been - seven victories, 83 days in the yellow jersey and 22 stage wins - that the Tour, the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, has become simply a chapter in the Armstrong story.

In the process, the American with the rock star girlfriend, Sheryl Crow, has been credited, rightly, for taking the Tour beyond the barriers of sport. Most notably it has been enlisted inthe battle against cancer, but has also pricked the interest of multi-nationals like Nike, as well as straying into the realms of Hollywood and even into the consciousness of the American people, usually scoffed at for their insularity and for whom cycling was previously an obscure European sport.

Hence yesterday, as the riders roared up and down the Champs-Elysées, Paris's central boulevard was awash with Americans, many clutching the best-selling book in the United States, The Tour de France for Dummies, under one arm and proudly wearing "Livestrong" yellow charity wristbands - of which 50 million have been sold worldwide - on the other.

Most visible of all were Hollywood players like Michael Keaton and Matt Damon, royalty in the shape of Prince Albert of Monaco, politicians such as John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate. The wristbands came courtesy of one of Armstrong's paymasters, Nike, who have gone on record as saying that Armstrong is as profitable a commercial venture as any basketball player. Now that's success.

"TV audiences in the States have risen by 30 per cent and people there now say 'Lance' like they'd also say Michael [Jordan], Shaq [O'Neal] or Tiger [Woods]," Dan Osipow, the spokesman for Discovery Channel, Armstrong's team, said.

But as Armstrong's star has risen, so life on Planet Tour has become mono-tonous, empty of feeling, overshadowed by the monster it has helped create.

Ever since Armstrong took the jersey at Courchevel nearly a fortnight ago, almost every stage has had the same weary formula of a break of riders - of no threat to Armstrong - going up the road unchallenged.

"You see him talking into his race radio when riders attack, saying 'this one yes, this one no, this one's OK, don't let him go'. It's total control," Joseba Beloki, who has stood on the podium in Paris three times alongside the Texan, said recently.

It was symptomatic of the Tour's general malaise that in Armstrong's final press conference on Saturday, following his only stage win of the 2005 race (in the time trial at St-Etienne), that not one question was asked about the American's actual physical performance that day. Armstrong, it seems, is way beyond being queried about his mere athletic capabilities.

An accomplished speaker, Armstrong hesitated only once when asked which of his Tours was the most important. "Ask me in 10 years' time," he countered, before finally venturing, "the first [1999], the third [2001], and the sixth [2005]." Why? In those three Tours, it turns out he had more axes to grind than in the others.

His 1999 win marked his comeback from cancer, the proof that he had overcome those who said he was finished. At his final press conference six years ago, he said he dedicated 50 per cent of his win to those with cancer, 25 per cent to himself and 25 per cent to those who had not believed in him.

In 2001, where he raced at his most flamboyant, he rode against what he defined as the "cynics and the zealots" - those who dared to raise the issue of doping after he had revealed that he was working with the controversial - and subsequently banned - Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.

He responded as he only knows how - by obliterating the field at Alpe D'Huez and Pla D'Adet - and in a memorable rest-day press conference, he told journalists "you're like the weather - if it rains, I wear a raincoat. If not, then not." Hurricane Lance then stormed out of the room and won the race by a country mile.

Last year was his chance to make history by becoming the first to six. There were, as he said, "no gifts" to other riders; he gobbled up stage wins - three in the Alps, one in the Pyrenees, and the final time trial. The message was plain: don't mess with Texas.

And the aims of No 7? "To go out with my head high and with my children watching me win," he said.

For the Tour de France, the retirement of someone as influential as Armstrong it is like losing its centre of gravity. Next year's Tour will be "like an epic without its hero", the French sports newspaper L'Equipe declared recently.

But if the Tour will lose much of its transatlantic, multi-national glamour, it will return to being just a European-orientated cycling race. And after seven years of absolute power, and with the near certainty that he could have won at least one more, that will be perhaps Armstrong's most enduring legacy, a final, unintentional contribution to the sport: his absence.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor