Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tour Down Under Or Tour Down Armstrong?

Like most cycling fans, this is the time of the year in which I have pull out of the winter slumber and get into the "zone". You know what I'm talking about. Drum-roll. the international pro calender is starting next week with the TDU and there are some big names on the starting list.

So I'm all excited and I go alright, cool so where can I watch the TDU in the U.S?

I wish I hadn't found out the answer. For learning that this sweet little race is going to be man-handled by VERSUS yet again instilled a reaction likable to an excited male organ turning droopy in sexual indifference.

Some of you out there may be pretty disappointed to learn that the "voices of cycling" trio Liggett, Sherwin & Roll could be planning on unleashing the same love triangle with Armstrong that they had all throughout last year.

"Oh Armstrong did this...I'm so happy."

"Oh Armstrong did that...I'm even happier."

"Oh Armstrong did something in between this and that you may want to know..."

"And...there we have Armstrong, he's looking great, look at his shining bottom..."

Someone save us all.

If this is going to be an all-out orgy between professional commentators and the controversial "face of cycling" like last year, expect yourselves not to learn a word about the brighter side of the Aussie pro scene, about all those younger upcoming talents who are the pillars of this sport tomorrow.

More disappointment comes in the following quote from the Cycling Fans website :

"In its second year of Tour Down Under coverage, VERSUS will air daily 30-minute stage re-caps from Jan. 19-23 at 6 p.m. ET as well as a one-hour show at 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 24 for the final stage.....VERSUS' daily coverage of the Tour Down Under will be supplemented with a half-hour special on Jan. 23 at 5:30 p.m. ET titled Lance Armstrong: The Next Chapter. This must-see special will feature Paul Sherwen's exclusive one-on-one interview with the cycling legend in which Armstrong reveals his thoughts of his performance in 2009 and what fans can expect from him in 2010. The special will re-air on Jan. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET."

I think the idea is preposterous. Is Lance Armstrong the "next chapter" of cycling? What is there to talk more about his next chapters when we already know so much about this hot bag of air from his multiple movies, his TV show appearances, his Youtube videos, his multiple books, his multiple interviews, his thousands of twitterings and from his multitude of yes-men who are probably collecting a good sum themselves publicizing his name?

I mean, this man's PR scheme is on steroids with a capital S and it is just the same old, cheap stuff overwhelming cycling wherever it goes. Nothing is going to change I guess.

Like many, my only hope here is that he at least gives his "Global Cancer Awareness" propaganda some more priority instead of taking the stage to yap about himself. What has the Global Cancer Awareness done so far in the Globe? Are people more aware now of cancer than before? Give the public some concrete numbers for a change. Yes, everyone wants to know.

Armstrong publicized in a grand press conference in 2008 that for two years prior to his comeback, he had "sat and studied a global cancer awareness strategy" because he was so overcome with the epidemic, and the motivation to get back on the bike would have been specifically to implement it. "That would be the number one goal," he had said.

In that same press conference, he admitted he would talk with the Prime Minister of Italy during the Giro to initiate an anti-cancer program over there. He said he would organize a Global Summit at Paris. He said he would organize this initiative and that initiative for the respective communities in the countries he raced in. Did those really happen? Not sure.

And then he went on about his comprehensive anti-doping program with Don Catlin, which we all now know, doesn't exist anymore. So what about the rest of the story? Is he sticking to cancer awareness or did that come apart too? Sadly in 2009, we heard more about his media antics with rival, a composed Contador, than we did about the specifics of "Global Cancer Awareness".

One should really think about what motivations Armstrong has with the TDU, especially when he embarked on racing here in 2009. Give this one a critical thought for a moment.

In grand manner, Armstrong had remarked in 2008 prior to his comeback that he would essentially race for free. During the infamous interview with Vanity Fair, he spun to Douglas Brinkley the following :

"Everybody in cycling has a team and takes a team salary. I am essentially racing for free. No salary. No bonus. Nothing on the line.… This one’s on the house. And you know what? At the end of the day, I don’t need money.… Not only will I be fine, my kids will be fine, my grand kids will be fine.”

To Joe Public reading that snippet from this interview, it might have appeared that Armstrong was being humble and truthful for a change and was not interested in making profits off this whole "comeback 2.0" affair. Was Joe Public right? Not if he really understood Armstrong's dictionary.

So the reality?

For 7 days of being sheltered in the peloton at the TDU in 2009, it was reported by Crikey that Armstrong pocketed a cool sum of upto AU$3 million (US$2.7 million) in taxpayer money. Of that, he was immediately paid US$500,000 by the South Australian government after his announcing while the rest came later after the race. What is certain is that he received AU$1 million (US$925,000) just to stand somewhere and talk in general about cancer.

The SA Tourism office covered up the money trail in public by saying that disclosure of his income was not possible as they considered it "commercial in confidence". What does that mean? It means you don't have to reveal what you don't have to reveal. Simple. Besides, Rann's control over information is so overwhelming that Bob Gosferd noted on Crikey "...even senior Ministers in his government don’t know how much the Texan is being paid."

You would think he would have donated a little bit of those profits to his charity foundation. In fact, that's what he had told Premier Rann Press who eventually gave the same story to the media at TDU. But apparently, that wasn't the case as he ended up pocketing it all for himself.

Later, knowing that anger and concern were being raised in Australia over this sum of money he had earned, Armstrong quit dodging questions and finally deflected his initial admission to Vanity Fair that he was going to race free since he had enough money and all that rubbish. He told the NY Times :

"I'm not donating the fee to my foundation but treating it as income."

Just like that. Keep in mind such earning excesses came at a time when wages of the peloton itself had decreased by 40% in recent years. And the excesses were earned for what exactly? For doing some minimal discussions about the cancer epidemic and then finishing 64th at the race, in the back somewhere.

And 3 million is just one piece of the pie. For the Giro, the Italian Tuttosport reported that Armstrong was getting paid 2 million Euros (US$2.87 million) to show up. What he made for the Tour of California and the Tour of Ireland are shrouded in secrecy. Its anyone's guess, but don't cut yourself short. Start counting in six figures.

Considering Armstrong's long revisionist history and attitude of outright lying, one would have to study him with critical thought and gut instincts instead of simply drinking the Kool-aid he spills out in PR campaigns.

It would not hurt if cycling fans and other members of the Australian public thought critically about what Armstrong's real agenda was at the Tour Down Under last year. How much does he and the people who publicize him stand to make this year by shuttling around his ego, much less the whole anti-cancer propaganda? And then the big question is, is that your money and is it being well spent?

For the rest of us, let's hope VERSUS provides a balanced coverage of professional cycling from now on, instead of bootlicking Lance Armstrong.


Valverde, the “Texan”, TDU2010 And What The Australian Didn’t Tell You…

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