Lance is retiring, again. He told reporters in Rotterdam (the Tour’s start this year) that he plans to hang up his cleats one more time after the 2010 edition of the Tour de France to spend more time with his growing brood – four children and one on the way, and perhaps try a triathlon. Will Lance’s departure leave the door open for a younger riders? I asked this question back in 2005 in this report for NPR. The rise of Spaniard Alberto Contador, who will likely win this year’s event barring a crash or major bonk, has put that issue to rest. The question today is whether his departure will be on a happy note, or tarnished by allegations by former Armstrong domestique Floyd Landis. The New York Times reported this week that the federal investigation into the doping allegations, and potential charges of fraud, is continuing step-by-step and that several current riders and former Armstrong teammates are cooperating. Over the years, I’ve followed the Tour through the Greg LeMond’s eight-second victory on the final time trial, Bjarne Riis’ pink bike toss, Marco Pantani’s crushing climbing victories, the 1998 Festina doping scandal, and of course Armstrong’s seven straight victories.
I even watched the 2002 Tour from the sidelines. We climbed Mont Ventoux along with a few hundred thousand other cycling fans to watch Frenchman Richard Virenque stay just a few minutes ahead of a charging Armstrong. We watched the Postal boys on a rest day at St. Paul-Trois-Chateau and got a staring at by a clearly annoyed Armstrong that we were in his hotel lobby, his territory (along with funnyman/bike geek Robin Williams). I filed a story for NPR from a phone booth in Aix en Provence. We climbed up to the Alpine ski resort of LaPlagne and waited six hours in a crowded bar for Dutchman Michael Boogerd to pedal to victory. My mates and I stood on our bikes on the grand tree-lined boulevards of the Champs Elysees and watched Aussie Robbie McEwen take the victory. I’ve been a journalist and a fan of the Tour. I’ve wrestled with how to reconcile the doping charges and my love of the sport. and I’ve pondered Floyd’s role in either the cleaning up or further sullying of cycling. As I told a cycling journalist earlier this year, I’ve become detached – watching the race as a fan, and watching the doping news as a professional.
Here’s hoping that Lance gets his farewell tour across France this year – he deserves it. Who knows, perhaps he can pull out a miracle finish and once again get up on that podium in Paris. But here’s also wishing that Floyd’s allegations are also fairly aired and perhaps tried after the cheers have faded. My inner journalist wants the truth to come out. At the same time, I can’t wait for the 2010 Tour race to start tomorrow morning – no matter the outcome.