The Tour Down Under is set to start next week. The event has quickly grown into a marquee season opener for the racing calendar but who’s to thank for that?
Well some people feel former Tour de France winner and convicted doper Lance Armstrong may have something to do with it.
South Australia’s sports minister Leon Bignell certainly believes so: “Lance Armstrong’s appearance at the Santos Tour Down Under came at a time when he was considered the greatest cyclist in the world. He brought the eyes of the world with him to South Australia when he rode in the TDU, taking the race to a whole new level,” he told Australian newspaper, The Advertiser.
The numbers back it up with data showing that a year before his return to the sport back in 2009 (after four years spent in semi-retirement) the Tour Down Under attracted 548,000 spectators. Compare that to last year’s crowd number of 840,000.
The big Texan raced the race three times in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with his highest finishing coming in 2010 when he finished 24th in the field.
Cycling is clearly getting more love than it did but how much of this is down to Armstrong? Well in this case a lot.
“The state government has continued to leverage this exposure, ensuring crowd numbers continued to climb even after Lance’s final TDU appearance” Bignell added.
The Tour Down Under’s race director, Mike Turtur, believes the race is “still benefitting from that legacy” of the Armstrong years. “The smallest increase that we saw was 100 per cent it.”
What does Armstrong think about it? “If you had asked me three years ago, I would have said ‘absolutely’ (I regret the comeback), but where I sit today, five years post, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Armstrong told the Advertiser.
The American went on to say that his contribution to the race’s progression was “100% positive” as it continues to grow in 2018.
Do you agree with the former pro?