Like all of you, I was glued to the television box on Saturday and Sunday, watching the first two stages of this years Tour de France.
This year is notable since it marks the return to the race of seven-time winner Lance Armstrong after a three-year retirement. I know this to be the case because Versus, the network that has the Tour de France broadcast rights in the US (channel 55 on Time Warner Cable in KC) has plastered his face along with overly-emotional and melodramatic montages of his career all over their network.
I'm as big of an Armstrong fan as you'll find. I've followed his career since everyone thought he was the second-coming of Greg LeMond (turns out he made us forget who Greg LeMond was). I have mad respect for his achievements, overcoming cancer to become unquestionably the best cyclist in Tour de France history.
It feels a little uncomfortable to see Versus hitch their wagon to Armstrong's wheel like they have. I mean, I get why they're doing it. Let's face it, pro cycling isn't as big in the U.S. as, say, watching reality TV celebrity couples disintegrate.
Versus is using Armstrong's Q-factor to drum up interest in the race. They have advertisers and ratings to worry about. That's fair enough. I certainly don't want them to abandon coverage of the race in the future.
But I think they're missing an opportunity here.
There's a really, really good chance that Armstrong is not going to win the race this year. He's not even the second best rider on his own team (Astana) at this point. And if he doesn't win, will he be back next year? To me, he's never seemed like the kind of person to play a support role.
In the meantime, there are plenty of promising American cyclists that should be introduced and give the sport more of a foothold in the states. Armstrong's teammate Levi Leipheimer for example. And riders from the American-sponsored Garmin-Slipstream team Christian Vande Velde, Tyler Farrar, Danny Pate and one of my favorites, David Zabriskie who missed last year's Tour due to an injury.
The fraternity of Americans in the upper levels of pro cycling is still pretty small compared to Europeans. Rather than putting all of its eggs in the Armstrong basket, if Versus should played up all of the Americans in the sports it would encourage more viewership over a longer term.
tagged: Tour de France, Europe, cycling, Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong, Astana, Garmin Slipstream