Lance Armstrong Announces Comeback
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Today, this announcement from Lance Armstrong on his website.
Mr. LANCE ARMSTRONG (Professional Road Racing Cyclist): Hey, everybody. I know there's been a lot of reports in the media today about a possible return to racing. I just want to let you know that, after long talks with my kids, the rest of my family, a close group of friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in 2009.
BLOCK: The 36-year-old cancer survivor and cycling superstar says he wants to win an eighth Tour de France title. We're joined now by NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman. And Tom, what's Lance saying about why he's coming back?
TOM GOLDMAN: Well, Melissa, he's saying that he wants to do this in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden, and I'll read directly from his statement. You just had a portion of it. He said, "this year alone, nearly eight million people will die of cancer worldwide. Millions more will suffer in isolation, victims not only of the disease, but as of social stigma. After the passage of Proposition 15 in Texas, a three-billion dollar investment in the fight against cancer, which is helping to make this disease part of a national dialog in America, it's now time to address cancer on a global level. So that's a big part of what he wants to do.
BLOCK: And what obstacles would he face in coming back?
GOLDMAN: Well, other than fitness concerns, and he has been staying in good shape with marathon running and some mountain biking races, there's the question about what team he'll compete with. Now, it's believed it will be the team named Astana, which is led by Armstrong's former team director, Johan Bruyneel. This week, Astana and Bruyneel were denying knowledge of an Armstrong comeback, so that'll be something that has to be resolved.
Also, to compete at the elite level again, Armstrong has to make himself available for drug testing, and he has done that. Last month, he enrolled with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for its out of competition testing pool. He has to be in that program for at least six months before he can compete in these elite races again. And the timing does work out for him, so he'll be able to start that with next February's Tour of California, which he's reportedly interested in.
BLOCK: He retired from cycling in 2005 after winning that 7th Tour de France victory. What's he been doing since then? You mentioned marathon running, what else?
GOLDMAN: Raising money, speaking out for cancer research, and he's also been dating a lot of famous blonde women. The latest being actress Kate Hudson, although I may be behind a bit. That may have changed. But he's been doing that a lot.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: What about his legacy? He's got to be thinking about that. He went out at the top of his career. Can he hope to match what he did before?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, that's a big question of what he can do. And he turns 37 next week, and what he'll be able to do next year. You know, does he risk the harm of his - of harming his legacy? It depends on which legacy you embrace, you know? Is it the cancer-beating superman or the guy who won seven straight Tours de France, possibly with the help of banned drugs? There is compelling, albeit, circumstantial evidence in two books by an award-winning journalist named David Walsh which points to Armstrong doping. He, of course, has denied that.
This network was one of the first to report on an incident in which Armstrong allegedly admitted using banned drugs to a small group of friends. So there is this trail of suspicion and allegations which Armstrong has denied. Perhaps, this is a way to come back and wipe away all those suspicions. Although, if he comes back and proves that he's racing clean, it still wouldn't resolve the stuff he allegedly did in the past.
BLOCK: And briefly, Tom, do you figure a return of Lance Armstrong to cycling gives the sport a big boost? It must, right?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, I think so. I think he's a big enough star right now, still is, despite the skepticism that I just spoke of, that he'll bring crowds out, certainly in this country and overseas.
BLOCK: OK, Tom. Thanks a lot.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
BLOCK: It's NPR's sport correspondent Tom Goldman, talking about the return of Lance Armstrong to professional cycling.