|By Matt Kane|
Think back to last year at this time and to what and whom saturated the daily sports sections and nightly talk shows.
The “what” was the Tour de France, and the “whom” was Lance Armstrong, who was more popular that the entire tour.
We all know the headline by now: Cancer survivor wins seven consecutive Tour de France titles.
Not since Minnesota’s own Greg LeMond, who won three Tour de France championships in the late 1980s, had an American cyclist stolen the spotlight away from Major League Baseball. But Armstrong peddled his way past the field and LeMond and into the world spotlight and yellow jersey for seven consecutive years.
Even today, a full year after Armstrong called it quits, he is still an American icon.
He now rides with actors and musicians and even President George W. Bush, and he had an audience full of his athletic piers rolling in their seats with his borderline-appropriate comedy routine as host of the ESPY awards earlier this month.
Armstrong says he won’t ride again, and maybe he will go the way of Barry Sanders, and keep to his word, or maybe he will follow in Michael Jordan’s footsteps and come back a few times. But whatever he decides, it seems Armstrong will be not soon forgotten in this country.
He certainly is an inspiration for those stricken with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, so, for that, I say keep showing up, Lance, but I’m also a little worried his notoriety this time of year is taking away from the Tour de France.
There is no doubt that Armstrong turned American eyes towards Europe and Le Tour, but those eyes seem to still be focused on him, instead of the sport of cycling.
In case you didn’t know, Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, won the 93rd Tour de France Sunday, to become the third American to do so.
SportsCenter and the daily newspapers certainly told of this, but the coverage was a far cry to what was given to Armstrong. The argument may be that Armstrong had such a great story to tell.
But Landis isn’t too far behind. The Pennsylvania Mennonite sipped champagne at the Tour de France finish line, despite an ailing hip, which he has plans on replacing.
Now, if that happens, Landis gets a new hip and rides off into the sunset after six more Tour wins, maybe he will be hosting the ESPYs in 2013 and Armstrong will be watching from his couch in Austin, Texas.
Reports are that if Landis has hip replacement surgery, it would be a similar procedure to what Bo Jackson had. His chances of repeating his 2006 performance are minimal. But, no matter what he does in the future, I think Landis proved something to the world that Armstrong did not. He proved that the United State can win cycling’s biggest crows, even without a guy named Armstrong.
If the Europeans were licking their chops after Armstrong’s retirement speech, they were left hungry last Sunday by Landis, who proved American cycling wasn’t a fluke fueled by one athlete.
Lets hope that if Landis cannot compete in next year’s race to defend his title, a title which he is in jeopardy of being stripped of as I write this column, another American can turn up the RPMs and keep the trophy in the possession of the stars and stripes.
American’s Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde finished 13th and 24th respectively in the Tour de France, and maybe they will make a push towards the front of the pack in the near future.
Otherwise, maybe there is a kid who dreams of someday becoming the next Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong or Floyd Landis as he peddles to the grocery store for a gallon of milk.
They have to start somewhere.