Whatever you think, this is the BIG story of cycling for at least the next seven months. And headlines in the cycling press about Lance will ensure that successes earned by others on the road - eg Mark Cavendish - will be forgotten.
Last week in a feverish state of aaargh! I wrote with all emotions spilling freely about Lance. Thanks to our wonderful editor, Lord Ebren, none of you were subjected to my wroth.
I am now re-thinking my words, but you know what? I still feel the same.
So that there is no doubt here, I’ll lay my beliefs right on the line. I hate Armstrong. I don’t think he is a cheat, but he rode the Tour as a bully and there were team members who have been proved cheats.
I don’t think he would have won seven times if everyone cycled clean. That’s my viewpoint but now we have to face the fact that Mr Armstrong is coming back to the peloton.
He has already had the rules changed so that he can ride in The Tour Down Under – not a race we usually look at for any sort of form guide for the main season, but whoops a daisy – rules bent for Lance next year.
Now here’s the thing – since Monsieur Armstrong rode as a professional cyclist, a lot of rules have changed. Doping is no longer “de rigeur” and some teams, such as Columbia and Garmin, are leading the charge in “clean cycling”. Team CSC is not far behind.
But who has Lance signed with? None of these. No – he’s going to ride for Astana. What a wonderful legacy they have! Say Vinokourov. Vino, Vino, where do you get your speed from?
Apparently Lance is worried about how the fans who line the roads in France will feel about his return. He has said that he has received death threats. Well there are a few steps to travel before he even gets to the Tour.
Is he fit enough for a Grand Tour? Three weeks of hell is a tough challenge and after a few years of chumming with pop stars and politicians isn’t a great way of warming up for a Tour that is so very much not tailor-made for Armstrong.
Why don’t we see how the warm-ups go? I’d like to see Lance barred from the Tour Down Under – why should they change the rules for him? Let him do a couple of Classics to prove his form.
Go head to head with Contador to see who is strongest in Astana. Make it true that Periero, Contador and Sastre have issued a statement: “We are pathetic and weak compared to him [Armstrong]. Our victories [in Le Tour] feel hollow.”
I think these and many others in today’s peloton have the legs on Lance.
There is no doubt that Lance’s putative participation in Le Tour is garnering column inches (in newspapers that don’t even cover cycling!), but it’s wrong. All wrong.
I would never go as far as accusing Armstrong of being dubious, but the last few years of Le Tour have been so much more interesting without him. He ruled the peloton in a way that we have never seen before. Not in the days of Big Mig, or even The Badger.
I really didn’t like how Armstrong did it. Whether he cheated or not, I don’t care about that. I care that he spoilt the race. For years.
Now he’s coming back, and that is already making me like the race less. There’s a piece in the press about Lance using the Large Hadron Collider as a way to win the Tour. A joke, obviously, but I laugh, hollowly, because this man will be there on the start line.
The Tour next year will be all about Lance, and it shouldn’t be. It should be about which sprinter will take over from Robbie (that’ll be Mark then), and who will climb – maybe Robbie Hunter, or a Spaniard or Italian.
There was a wee bitty in the press today about LA. Apparently he is still a wee bitty worried about the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” – ie the French. Armstrong claimed in the Guardian (an interview with Donald McRae) that the French physically threatened him. Frankly, insisting on having eff off great body guards when he rode to glory in his hay-day is likely to piss anyone off.
So there we go – I admire Lance, and enjoyed the book – It’s Not About the Bike. But never liked how he rode the Tour, never liked that he cared nothing for the Classics, and, you know, if he does ride in 2009, it’ll be the same.
I’d rather follow the Tour for the sprints next year. To see the mantle passed from Robbie to Mark. I am pretty damn sure that the top sprinters are clean, so that’ll be fun.
Overall – for GC – if they allow Lance back, well, crap, and bollocks again. I cannot see for one tiny moment how Armstrong coming back is a good thing for the sport.