He still haunts the sport he ruined, but the influence of Lance Armstrong — who in the 2000s was one of the most famous and most recognisable athletes on the planet — may finally be a thing of the past.
At least as far as American bike racing is concerned.
And at least as far as the US’s top cycling official sees things.
In an interview this week with Business Insider, the new CEO of USA Cycling, Derek Bouchard-Hall, said Armstrong “has no relevance to what I do” and that the former doping cheat is not even on his “radar screen.”
Bouchard-Hall was speaking openly about the many challenges of leading American cycling in the post-Armstrong era. Among them were improving drug testing and making “the doping story go away.”
The Harvard Business School grad, who brings impressive experience to the job, is himself a former pro cyclist who on occasion raced against Armstrong.
He speaks candidly about cycling’s dirty past and its problems today. That, and the fact that Richmond, Virginia, just hosted the UCI Road World Cycling Championships a couple of weeks ago, has many cautiously optimistic about the future of the sport in the US.
When asked about Armstrong, Bouchard-Hall told Business Insider:
He’s not on my mind. He’s a huge figure, and one of the most significant sportsmen in the history of sports, and so he’s always around, but he has no relevance to what I do. I mean, he’s not asked to do anything with us. It’s not even an issue for me. He’s not on my radar screen.
And it’s not all just about how Armstrong cheated, doped, lied, and manipulated so many for so long. It’s also about what he represented, and how his outsize influence trickled down to the sport’s grassroots.
Bouchard-Hall told Business Insider that during Armstrong’s tainted reign the sport of cycling in the US was no longer about everyday riders, and thereby neglected the majority of its athletes:
Lance Armstrong was somebody who was an elite male road racer that everybody wanted to be a part of and everybody was interested in, and that gravitated the organisation toward that. But a lot of the everyday membership — our 70,000 members — it’s only a tiny portion that are elite-level athletes. The vast majority are participating in the sport for their personal enjoyment, without aspirations of winning the Tour de France or going to the Olympics. They’re just enjoying it for their own personal participation.
In July, Armstrong caused controversy by riding in a charity event at the Tour de France. The top figures in cycling asked him not to do it, saying it was “disrespectful” and that he’d already done enough damage. But the brash Texan did it anyway. It turned out to be a nonevent, and a lot of cycling fans opted to focus on the race instead.
As recently as fall 2014 Armstrong was photographed training with Tejay van Garderen, America’s No. 1 stage racer.
Meanwhile, the latest movie about Armstrong, “The Program,” has just been released in Europe. Directed by Stephen Frears, the biopic stars Ben Foster as Armstrong, Dustin Hoffman, Chris O’Dowd and Jesse Plemons.
Armstrong still believes he won seven Tours de France, even though those titles were stripped of him in 2012 because he used performance-enhancing drugs to win those Tours.
Betsy Andreu — who, with her husband, Frankie, was once close to Armstrong before becoming embroiled in a protracted, litigious battle that ended up exposing what USADA called “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” — told Business Insider this summer that she “would prefer if he just shut his mouth and go away forever so we don’t have to deal with him again.”
Business Insider has asked Armstrong for an interview and comment for several stories; he has declined.
Read the full interview with Derek Bouchard-Hall >>
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