Two important events occurred this week in the cycling world: 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was cleared of doping charges by the Spanish cycling federation, and seven-time Tour victor Lance Armstrong announced his definitive retirement from the sport. While the first news made major headlines even in non-cycling-related publications, the second merely echoed through the cycling media as a side-story.
One of the reasons for this was that Armstrong's retirement "2.0" - the second time after a come-back in late 2008 - had been expected and planned for a while. And even if the news on Contador's doping case somewhat monopolised media attention, reactions to Armstrong's decision finally came, and all emphasized the high impact Armstrong has had on cycling, promoting the sport unlike any other rider.
"His contribution to cycling has been enormous, from both the sporting point of view and his personality. All sports need global icons and he has become a global icon for cycling," UCI president Pat McQuaid told AP. "The sport of cycling has a lot to be thankful for because of Lance Armstrong."
USA Cycling chief executive officer Steve Johnson agreed. "Lance has obviously had an amazing impact on the sport. He helped put the sport on the radar screen of millions of Americans and earned fans around the globe. His legacy is certain to have a lasting effect on the continued growth of cycling."
Nonetheless, Armstrong's career was coloured by ongoing doping allegations, which have become ever more persistent and pronounced with the recent investigation into his years on the US Postal team by federal investigator Jeff Novitzky. With the outcome pending, the precise nature of Armstrong's legacy is in question - another reason why the news of his retirement has not made much noise.
Cédric Vasseur, who was with Armstrong at US Postal in 2000 and 2001, also had had praise for his former team-mate but told Cyclingnews that "it is difficult to appreciate his heritage as long as he is subject to controversy. But all the cycling specialists are unanimous in saying that his achievements deserve respect and I also do. To win seven Tours in a row - nobody did that before him, not even the great Eddy Merckx who is considered as the greatest cyclist of all time."
Vasseur also noted that Armstrong, on top of his performances on the road, grew to become an icon and that this caused resentment through jealousy. "He brought cycling a lot, whether that was media attention or his way of preparing for races," Vasseur continued. "It's no coincidence that audience figures exploded when he came back. We are talking about a real star more than a sportsman. I think that in time, we will come to realise his legacy better, even if a constant doubt overshadows the results he's obtained. The problem is that in cycling, the winner is envied - especially if he wins a lot - and it's easier to support the second-placed rider. Just think of Poulidor..."
Another great sportsman retired this week with Brazilian football star Ronaldo also ending his playing career. Vasseur said that cycling as a sport did not get the same media attention as football, partly because of a lack of credibility due to the sport's continued anti-doping efforts.
"I think Lance is also the victim of the issues professional cycling is dealing with. Riders are not viewed as champions anymore, but they are suspected and hunted like criminals. It's clear that if Armstrong had been a footballer, they would have rolled out the red carpet for him as they did with Ronaldo this week.
"We need to make cycling credible again, to the media and the general public, in order to hail the qualities of a champion like Armstrong for their true worth."
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