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Continental Drift with Andrew Hood: Big Tex’ ain’t just riding into the sunset

Lance Armstrong fans can breathe easy – cycling’s super-hero isn’t simply going to disappear from the scene come the end of July. Sure, he might not be slaying villains on his bike after this year's Tour de France, but Armstrong won’t ride off to his Texas ranch only to show up at reunion parties for ex-Tour winners 20 pounds overweight in 10 year’s time. No, Big Tex will be with us long after his final bicycle race as a professional. “I think we’ll see more of Lance,” says Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s longtime right-hand man. “I don’t expect him to be out at the ranch for too

Armstrong isn't going too far away, says long-time friend

By Andrew Hood

Armstrong will be around for a while, says Stapleton

Armstrong will be around for a while, says Stapleton

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Lance Armstrong fans can breathe easy – cycling’s super-hero isn’t simply going to disappear from the scene come the end of July.

Sure, he might not be slaying villains on his bike after this year’s Tour de France, but Armstrong won’t ride off to his Texas ranch only to show up at reunion parties for ex-Tour winners 20 pounds overweight in 10 year’s time.

No, Big Tex will be with us long after his final bicycle race as a professional.

“I think we’ll see more of Lance,” says Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s longtime right-hand man. “I don’t expect him to be out at the ranch for too long.”

Stapleton, of course, is Armstrong’s domestique in the business world. He’s his agent, his lawyer and his confidente; the George Hincapie of the rough and tumble business peloton, if you will. He’s the man on Armstrong’s flank and clears the way for Armstrong to do his thing.

There are few people that have Armstrong’s ear when it comes to what the future holds for the universally popular Texan. When we bumped into Stapleton atop the wind-swept summit of Mont Ventoux, he revealed that the Texan doesn’t expect to fade to black come July 24.

Instead, Stapleton predicts Armstrong will continue to shine even brighter beyond the cycling stage.

His long-time sponsors are sticking with him – the Coca-Cola’s, the Trek’s, the Bristol-Myers-Squibb’s and the Nike’s – while Discovery Channel and 24-Hour Fitness are stepping up with new, exciting projects.

Expect to see Armstrong high-stepping at a chain of signature fitness centers and standing in front of TV cameras with original programming with the Discovery Channel cable channel.

“Sometimes you worry about an athlete when they retire, but Lance has a lot to do,” Stapleton says.

Beyond the high-profile endorsements, Stapleton says Armstrong will be able to dedicate even more time to the Lance Armstrong Foundation as well as work closely with the Discovery Channel team.

Don’t expect to see Armstrong nudging Johan Bruyneel for a spot behind the steering wheel of the team car, but he will have a huge influence on the team’s future.

“Lance is an owner of this team and he will be very involved, so he’s not going away from cycling,” he says. “He’s going to be involved with the development of riders, strategy for the growth of the team and he’ll still be on the phone with Johan talking tactics. He can’t help it, it’s in his blood.”

Whether Yaroslav Popovych or Tom Danielson can step into the leadership void left when Armstrong pedals into the sunset remains to be seen, but Stapleton assures that Armstrong’s presence will be long be felt long after retirement.

“He will be very involved in every aspect of what we do,” he says. “When we buy a new bus, he will have a say about it. If we have a young rider who is poised to win a big stage race, Lance is going to be right there with a lot of advice.”

In the meantime, Armstrong has some unfinished business. He’s still a racer and he’s zeroing in on a run at a seventh Tour crown. Solid performances at the Dauphiné Libéré point that his form is right on track.

“He’s always thinking about the Tour, it’s the same as always,” Stapleton says. “It’s the same schedule, racing schedule, reconnaissance the stages, the training camps, the same preparation.”

That’s good news for any cycling fan and bad news for anyone expecting the Armstrong phenomenon would blow away like yesterday’s L’Equipe.