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Tri industry hopes for Armstrong's return

Published June 22, 2012

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO (BRAIN)—Lance Armstrong won’t be in the line-up when the gun goes off at Ironman Nice in France on Sunday, but many in the triathlon industry hope they haven’t seen the last of the dominant cyclist and the exposure he brings to the sport.

“We’re going to see much of Lance moving forward, I have a strong suspicion,” Tim Yount, chief operating officer of USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body, said, regardless of Armstrong’s innocence or guilt in the ongoing doping investigation.

Yount said he’s fielded inquiries from Armstrong’s team about non-WTC races that he could consider racing in lieu of the high-profile Ironman series. There are also USAT programs connected to Livestrong that will continue. Although Yount doesn’t know of any other races Armstrong has entered, there are close to 4,000 other half, Olympic or full ironman distance events with deep professional fields for which he remains eligible, such as Vineman 70.3, Maryland’s Savage Man or the Chicago and Los Angeles triathlons.

“If there is a silver lining to this for him and the sport, it’s to have the opportunity for Lance to go out there and participate in areas he wouldn’t have otherwise,” Yount said.

Armstrong is banned from all World Triathlon Corporation races while the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigates whether he used prohibited substances between 1996 and 2010, during which time he won the Tour de France seven times. The WTC owns the Ironman race series, and until this month’s ban, Armstrong had the October world championships in Kona in his sights, having already won two half Ironman events and placed second at a third.

Armstrong’s participation was sure to bring a level of mainstream exposure unprecedented for the sport—a potential boon for retailers and race promoters. Just before news of the latest investigation broke, NBC announced it would televise Kona two weeks after the Oct. 13 race instead of waiting until the usual December timeframe, and would air two hours instead of 90 minutes.

This stirred notions of a triathlon “Lance Effect,”—the term often used to describe the boom in road bike sales in the early 2000s resulting from Armstrong’s wide-ranging popularity.

“I’m sure had he been successful [at Kona], it would have brought the attention to the sport from people who would have never paid attention had it not been Lance Armstrong,” said Jack Caress, president of the Triathlon Business International trade association and president of event promoter Pacific Sports, LLC. “From an economic standpoint, I don’t know how to measure what that would have been, but certainly it’s not good if that’s not even going to have a chance to happen.”

Caress believes the likely loss of Armstrong’s celebrity-status and global appeal at the center of the sport’s marquee race equates to potential lost sales of tri-related gear and a hit to sponsors relying on buzz created from Armstrong promoting their products.

Armstrong was set to debut Giro’s new Air Attack aero road helmet in France this weekend, and because he had the exclusive, Giro hadn’t planned on any other athletes wearing the Air Attack. Giro spokesperson Mark Riedy wasn’t sure yet if the helmet would end up on another athlete in Nice, but it will get exposure during the Tour de France and the Olympics. Still the missed chance for Armstrong to don the Air Attack on national and international television, in front of print media and tens of thousands of spectators less than a week after is unquantifiable.

“It’s just unfortunate,” Caress said. “I think a lot of us hope there can be some resolution, some talk about the possibility of racing in events, a solution while all of this process is going on,” Caress said. “For those of us who love the industry, I have to hope for that.”

Topics associated with this article: Racing & Sponsorship

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