Translated from Telegraaf's Johan Bruyneel Column (Dutch Link)
What kind of phenomenon Lance Armstrong is, became clear to me the first months of this year. When he carefully told me that he was thinking of a comeback after three years of inactivity, I thought he had become insane. I didn’t expect such a thing at all. But when I realized that he really meant it, I did not only see a nice challenge to work with him again, I found as well new opportunities for cycling.
Since ‘LA’ announced his comeback in September 2008, the team was constantly in the headlines. In the races in which he participated, there were more people than ever. The public in the Tour Down Under was more than enthusiastic. The event became the biggest sports event of South Australia. In the Tour of California the public interest was similar to stages in the Tour de France. In Castilla y León you could see the impact of Lance on smaller races. The start and finish were always in small towns but there were more than a hundred journalists from all over the world.
The positive effect of Lance’s comeback is that he brings cycling more in the picture. The sport needs that! Since he left, the sport received less worldwide attentions. Only the Tour de France is a race that gets international recognition. When you compare cycling to other sports like Formula One, tennis (Grand Slams) and soccer (Champions League), cycling is far behind. A lot of people in our sport are always against globalization as they only protect their own interest. Their too narrow and traditional way of thinking prevents progress. In the long term, globalization offers long term benefits for everyone.
I am subscribed to various sports marketing newsletters. I read a lot of times that, despite the economic crisis, deals of tens of millions are closed in big sports. But in cycling nothing happens. This proves that we have to look further than Europe to develop our sport. Thirty years ago there was only professional cycling in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Holland. Now not only the professional riders, but also their (multinational) sponsors come from all over the world.
Lance Armstrong is currently the only person in the cycling world that is famous worldwide. He is more than a cyclist, he is a brand. The impact of his presence in his first races of 2009 proved it. Cycling needs people like Lance Armstrong.
A quick Lance Armstrong update:
Since he broke his collarbone in Castilla y León, Lance is doing better each day. He trains every day in Austin on his indoor bike and will ride outdoor next week. Contrary to the first diagnosis in Spain, his fracture appeared to be a bit more complicated. What is important is that theoperation went fine and Lance was never inactive. He continued training. Our experience tells us that the recovery period for a sportsman is shorter. It can go fast. Participation to the Giro d’Italia will be possible though he will have to start there with other ambitions than before. To compete for a podium place will be a tough mission, but I am convinced that, thanks to the Giro, he can make a big progression towards the Tour de France.