Tour de France: Can Lance Armstrong keep his Teflon image?
As the Tour de France gets under way, defrocked 2006 winner Floyd Landis has put forward fresh, detailed doping allegations against Lance Armstrong. But Armstrong has become as famous for deflecting scandal as for leading the peloton.
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In a Wall Street Journal exposé this weekend, Landis portrayed him as a Texan cowboy who has flouted everything from stop signs to morality to antidoping rules, and encouraged his teammates to join in. He described Armstrong getting blood transfusions on the team bus when the driver pulled over and feigned a breakdown.
But Armstrong’s Teflon persona has so far deflected not only Landis’s claims, but all previous accusations about his character, his marital problems, and his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Unprecedented for his success and leverage in the US cycling community – those who speak against him are severely punished – he has strengthened his immunity by becoming an established celebrity outside the cycling world.
“Here’s a guy who hangs out with Matthew McConaughey, Bono, and Ben Stiller,” says Neal Rogers, managing editor of American cycling magazine VeloNews. “A lot of people, especially in the US, they don’t equate Lance Armstrong with athleticism any more.”
A modern folk hero who makes $20 million
In a recent TV commercial for his team sponsor, RadioShack, Armstrong sits atop a bike in a small office, lecturing his assistant on the finer points of voicemail etiquette.
“It’s the 21st century ... if all you have to say is, ‘Call me,’ just send a text message,” Armstrong says, channeling his inner Jerry Seinfeld.
On the office walls hang three framed posters of the seven-time Tour de France winner in action. Each have a different one of the following motivational words underneath: Inspiration. Courage. Perseverance.
Presenting himself as an affable guy who’s not afraid to ham it up, Armstrong is also a modern folk hero — a driven world-class athlete who survived cancer. When he announced his return to cycling in 2008, he said he was aiming to build awareness for cancer.
Armstrong, a consummate businessman, raises money for cancer research through his LiveStrong foundation.