Are the French finally softening towards Lance Armstrong? Our correspondent in Paris, Bill Strickland, editor-at-large of Bicycling Magazine and co-author of We Might as Well Win (which chronicles Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories), told us from France just thirty minutes ago that “Just about everyone I’ve talked to in the crowds has had good things to say about Lance. They all think he’s a hero and a champion of fair play.” (Armstrong’s decision to hold back and not make a run at Astana teammate Alberto Contador was seen by many, Strickland says, “as gallant.”)
Strickland feels that the hostility between Armstrong and the French that was perceived on this side of the pond was largely a matter of Armstrong not striking the right chords with a handful of very influential French sports journalists, that the majority of French fans like him even though he crushed their national Tour de France hopes so many years. Still, “You can feel a lot more warmth between Lance and French fans this time round,” Strickland says. “Now he’s perceived as a courageous underdog, which is something French fans love. After all, he’s been away from the tour for three years, so they’ve had a better chance to put its greatness into perspectives.
“There was a very good French rider, Raymond Polidor, who finished second in the Tour de France for many years. The French fans loved him more than they did the winners. He was more compatissant” – sympathetic – “than the winners.”
Armstrong looks to finish third in this year’s race, despite much training time lost to a broken collarbone two months ago and the birth of a son back in early June. When he’s back in full cycling form next year, it will be interesting if the French still find him compatissant.