2009 comebacks: Lance Armstrong

The story of Lance Armstrong is widely known – world-class cyclist contracts cancer, battles back from death's doorstep to recover, then wins the premier cycling event in the world, the arduous Tour de France, a record seven times. Armstrong then retires to promote his LiveStrong campaign, raising money for cancer awareness and encouraging cancer survivors to embrace life to its fullest.

The personal side of Armstrong's life has not been quite so story book, however. After a divorce from his wife, Kristen, Armstrong was famously involved with singer Cheryl Crow for a time, and has since been seen in the company of other celebrities.

To the surprise of many, late in 2008 Armstrong announced that he intended to return, at the unheard-of age of 37, to professional cycling, including the difficult Giro d'Italia. His avowed intention is to "raise awareness of the global cancer burden."

However, if this is indeed his purpose, he may rue his decision. The pro sport is today overwhelmed by the ongoing drug scandals, and cycling insiders have for years claimed that Armstrong's unprecedented success was at least in part due to performance-enhancing substances. His return to the spotlight will only serve to rekindle this controversy, and the only way he can possibly quell it is by winning one of the big tours while passing every blood and piss test known to man.

If he fails to compete successfully, a likelihood for any 37-year-old several years retired from the sport, it will only serve to strengthen suspicions. In this case, the sullying of his reputation might diminish the LiveStrong brand, not help it.
I don't doubt some in the cycling world hope that Armstrong will lend some credibility to a sport indelibly stained by doping, but I think this has more potential for farce. Armstrong has much to lose and little potential for gain by the comeback. Perhaps a few mountain passes will bring him back to his senses.

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