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Tour de France: Lance Armstrong's NBC presence spurs debate about his place in cycling

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Lance Armstrong relaxing while George Hincapie rode a lap said the race had “a killer vibe”.

Lance Armstrong relaxing while George Hincapie rode a lap said the race had “a killer vibe”. (Image credit: Dave McElwaine)
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Lance Armstrong rides in the La Ruta de Los Conquistadores on November 3, 2018, in Limon, Costa Rica.

Lance Armstrong rides in the La Ruta de Los Conquistadores on November 3, 2018, in Limon, Costa Rica. (Image credit: Getty Images)
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Lance Armstrong wins the World Championship road race in Oslo, Norway, in 1993

Lance Armstrong wins the World Championship road race in Oslo, Norway, in 1993 (Image credit: Bettini)
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Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong on the way to the summit of Mount Ventoux during the 2000 Tour de France

Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong on the way to the summit of Mount Ventoux during the 2000 Tour de France (Image credit: Michael Aisner)
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Tom Boonen and Lance Armstrong in Nancy, France 2005

Tom Boonen and Lance Armstrong in Nancy, France 2005 (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

It's safe to say that Lance Armstrong's brief appearances on the NBC Sports Network's live Tour de France television broadcasts – where he offered expert analysis to regular co-hosts Bob Roll and Phil Liggett – has not gone over well with a vocal part of the audience, many of whom questioned the appropriateness of promoting a rider whose doping activities led to a lifetime ban from the sport and his seven Tour de France wins stripped away in disgrace.

Armstrong, who now hosts 'The Move' podcast that has been covering each Tour de France stage with special guests and commentary, has also been featured during the NBC Sports Network's live daily coverage, joining Roll and Liggett on screen by video link-up and offering his opinions. After the race, the network has been airing excerpts from a 30-minute pre-Tour interview Mike Tirico conducted with Armstrong that originally aired on May 29.

An NBC Sports spokesperson told Cyclingnews Wednesday evening that Armstrong was an unpaid guest on a segment of the July 9 Tour de France telecast and was also not paid for the exclusive interview that debuted in May. The spokesperson did not say if the network plans to use Armstrong in future telecasts.

The US Anti-Doping Agency referred Cyclingnews' questions about whether Armstrong's appearances violated his lifetime ban to the UCI, saying the sport's international governing body could best discuss the "exact details regarding the relationship between them, the ASO and Tour de France."

The UCI told Cyclingnews that nothing about Armstrong's relationship with NBC or his appearances on the Tour de France broadcasts violate the terms of his ban.

"Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ineligibility prevents him from conducting any kind of official or professional activity in a sanctioned event [by the UCI and its members]," a UCI spokesman told Cyclingnews. "However, it is not preventing him from taking on activities outside organised cycling, attending or commenting cycling events. The Union Cycliste Internationale [UCI] is ensuring within the boundaries of its regulations that any ban is enforced within the cycling community. Having reiterated that, we are not keen to fuel a debate that will not serve our sport."

Although the UCI and USADA obviously do not want to wade into the fray, the cycling community writ large, and especially social media, suffer from no such inhibitions.

Former PBS News Hour host Ray Suarez asked his Twitter followers what they thought of "NBC Sports Network's gradual rehabilitation of Lance Armstrong" via the Tour de France broadcast appearances, while others were considerably more direct. Although Armstrong has his defenders, the majority of social media comments took NBC to task for featuring Armstrong, who posters referred to as a cheat, a sociopath, and who they blamed for doing great damage to American cycling.

Armstrong was given a lifetime ban from cycling and all Olympic sports following a USADA investigation and its subsequent "Reasoned Decision" published in October 2012 that detailed his use of banned substances throughout his pro career. He was also stripped of all results dating back to August 1, 1998, leaving the Cascade Cycling Classic in the US as his final official win.

Armstrong's ban from participating in all sports that are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] Code was tested immediately in 2012 when he was not allowed to compete in the Chicago Marathon, and then again in 2013 when he was pulled from participating in the US Masters swim event in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

In 2016, Armstrong's ban was partially lifted, allowing him to compete in certain Olympic events outside of cycling, although he said at the time that at 45 years old, his age prevented him from competing in any serious events.

Armstrong was scheduled to appear as a 'guest of honour' at the 2018 Tour of Flanders Business Academy event before the spring Monument that year, but his appearance at the race in an official capacity was met with widespread resistance, including from UCI President David Lappartient, who threatened to boycott the race if Armstrong appeared. The American eventually pulled out of the appearance, citing family reasons.

Armstrong's planned 'media partnership' with the 2018 Colorado Classic also fell through after USADA raised concerns over whether the arrangement violated Armstrong's lifetime ban from cycling, leading the event to reconsider the partnership.

The 2019 Tour de France continues Friday with a 230km transition stage from Belfort to Chalon-Sur-Saone, with no word on whether Armstrong will return to NBC or if cycling's fans will allow him to transition from disgraced cyclist to expert analyst.