Armstrong waves to a largely friendly crowd of spectators -
he rides down Champs Elysees with the Arc de Triumph behind
after finishing the last stage of the Tour de France, July 26.
Le Monde, France
Lance Armstrong: Tour
de France 'Messiah'
the Texan has become popular. Along the roadside, few people booed him. Also
rare were anti-Armstrong signs, which were feared by the American. On the
contrary! Hundreds of thousands of spectators cheered him, shouting, 'Come on,
boss!' … To exist, Lance Armstrong and the Great Loop depend on one another."
By Mustapha Kessous
July 28, 2009
France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)
What memory of the 2009 Tour de France will
prove the most lasting? The coronation of Spaniard Alberto Contador? Perhaps.
But more likely, it will be the return of Lance Armstrong to the top of world cycling.
Because the American, although he finished in third place, is the big winner.
During the three weeks of racing, he imposed his vision of the Grande Boucle
[the Great Loop - nickname for the Tour], which he definitively tipped into the
realm of spectacle. In 1993 at age 21, Armstrong had already sensed the
potential of the race. He said then to l'Humanité reporter Jean-Emmanuel
Ducoin: “this is a grand spectacle and I want to pull it off [translated quote].”
At nearly 38 years old, he has learned the essence of the race: the accumulation
of great performances and the scene at each stage obscure the issue of their
true sporting value.
Lance Armstrong assigned
himself the task of overcoming a reputation as a racer who dopes and erasing l'Equipe's 2005 revelation, that traces of EPO [Erythropoietin] had been
found in urine samples collected from Armstrong during his first Tour victory
in 1999. Mission accomplished: he was hardly jostled at all by the press, which
was partly on his side. One needed only to see journalists wearing bracelets of
his foundation he founded to fight cancer, "LIVESTRONG."
He was even less disturbed
when Patrice Clerc, former president of the Amaury Sport
Organization (organizers of the Tour), told Le Monde that Armstrong's
return “reopens the issue of doubt” (Le Monde, July 4).
Another clever maneuver: his Astana
team required American sports channel Versus
to broadcast its riders - including Lance Armstrong - being interviewed by Versus
analyst Frankie Andreu.
The former teammate of the Texan, Andreu,
along with his wife Betsy, is one of the few people to have said that Lance
Armstrong had admitted to having doped. “By appearing with Frankie, people may
be led to believe that all is well and that what was denounced before wasn't
that bad after all,” Betsy explained.
Lance Armstrong has managed
to develop a genuine communications strategy: to exalt the image of an
extraordinary athlete; to humanize himself so that the French would come to
love him; and finally, to establish his reputation in the United States to
perhaps allow him to one day seek the governor's chair in the state of Texas (Le
Monde, July 1). This strategy has undergone the development of a Hollywood
script: the story of a man who has conquered cancer before wining the Tour de France
seven times. A “messiah” who returned to participate in important races “as a gratuity” in order to alert the world to the dangers of cancer. His sponsor, Nike, has
found a new slogan, seemingly borrowed from Obama: “Hope
The script has been
skillfully followed since the announcement of his return in September 2008:
Lance Armstrong issued a stream of short snippets to the media, notably against
his teammate Alberto Contador - including via his Twitter messaging account -
thus provoking an avalanche of comments.
Today, the Texan has become
popular. Along the roadside, few people booed him. Also rare were
anti-Armstrong signs, which were feared by the American. On the contrary!
Hundreds of thousands of spectators cheered him, shouting, “Come on, boss!” as
he cycled passed, even wishing him an eighth title. In 2005, the same public, during
his last victorious Tour, booed him, skeptical in his insolent domination and questioning
the nature of his performance.
Armstrong has won his bet: to come back at nearly 38 to titillate the best riders
in the pack after more than three years in retirement. Not since Raymond Poulidor
(photo left), has anyone put in such a successful performance. Today, there are
many observers who compare the American to “Poupou,” the ever-popular eternal
second. This Armstrong, who said that the best way to “piss off” the French was
to return to their roads …
[Editor's Note: Raymond Poulidor finished
the Tour in second place three times, and in third place five times, including
his final Tour at the age of 40 in 1977].
With the return of Lance
Armstrong, the organizers have seized a golden opportunity: to revive the Great
Loop, which had been undermined by the issue of doping. Over the past ten
years, the Tour has lost 1.5 million viewers. In 2006, ratings reached an
average of 3,500,000 viewers per day. In 2008, it plummeted to 3,250,000.
The Tour de France has found
a star in the American whose comeback was carefully staged long before the
start of the race with the assistance of France Télévisions, as it was with
Michel Drucker's broadcasts in June. Despite the lack of suspense, the public,
which no longer has confidence in the performance of the riders, have nonetheless
been drawn to the saga of Lance Armstrong: the Tour attracted 3.8 millions
viewers for a 38.6 percent share of all viewers - the highest ratings since
To exist, Lance Armstrong and
the Great Loop depend on one another. The American has become the new face of
the Tour de France: the face of a sport that is closer to wrestling in which everything
is spelled out in advance. Except in the case of a fall … or a positive test.
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by WORLDMEETS.US July 31, 12:15Am]