Is Lance Armstrong Trying to Make Us Forget?

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Is Lance Armstrong Trying to Make Us Forget?JOCE/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images

Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace was spectacular.

From an unparalleled American hero to international pariah in the span of one interview, few icons have been rendered villain in such short order as Armstrong was in the wake of his admission of cheating.

His seven Tour de France titles were stripped, almost all of his endorsements gone. A lifetime ban from UCI events was handed down. An Olympic medal remitted. An entire cycling world seethed with anger, pointing their fingers, and screaming that they told us so.

But now, a few weeks away from his appearance on a major network reality show, Lance Armstrong is back near the center of the public consciousness. Of course, not in a way that he was in the midst of his run of Tour victories.

But when Fox’s Stars on Mars premieres on June 5, Lance Armstrong will be as accessible to the average living room as he was nearly two decades ago.

And that is thanks in large part to a slow-burning image rehabilitation that is either incidental or one long marketing play. Either way, when it comes to the general consensus, it seems to be working.

Image rehabilitation is nothing new. At least in the modern era, stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Vick have bounced back (albeit to varying degrees) from what could (and in Vick’s case should) have very easily been career-destroying events.

With his turn as reality television star, Lance Armstrong may soon be no different.

A few years after that famous Oprah interview, Lance Armstrong slowly started creeping back into the public consciousness.

In 2015, he rolled out his endurance-sports brand, WEDU. The brand’s most popular element is The Move, a podcast Armstrong hosts alongside his longtime teammate George Hincapie, their former manager Johan Bruyneel, and Austin bike-scene staple JB Hager. Opinions on Armstrong and his cohort aside, it is one of the most insightful podcasts on bike racing you’ll find, which no doubt has something to do with its popularity.

Some fans of bike racing who have less-than-stellar opinions of Lance Armstrong tune in regularly to hear race recaps and analysis from three guys who know the sport as well as anyone. I should know. I am one of them.

Then he very publicly dipped his toe into venture capitalism via a high-profile interview to CNBC.

After that came a major, two-part ESPN documentary. Critical of the one-time hero as it was, it also put him in front of the camera, allowing him to tell his version of the story. One of the film’s biggest critiques was of its star: after all of this, did he still not regret his choices?

Then, likely due to the fact that no major bike brand would risk the association with him, the new direct-to-consumer bike brand Ventum unveiled Armstrong as one of their marquee endorsees. Suddenly, Lance Armstong’s name was attached to an actual bike again. Trek it wasn’t. But a bike nonetheless.

Just as he did with his Livestrong foundation, Lance Armstrong did some truly real, quantifiable good when he raised money to help get the kids of Uvalde, Texas bikes after the horrific school shooting there.

And in just a few weeks, Lance Armstrong will appear as one of the contestants on Stars on Mars, which, for some reason, endeavors to figure out which star would survive longest on Mars. Or something?

As we’re nearly a decade into the Lance Armstrong image rehabilitation project (whether it’s all by chance or one long marketing plan), it begs the question: is it working?

The answer to that depends on who you’re asking. Because if you bring up the name Lance Armstrong on any group ride or in any shop, you’re more than likely to be met with eyerolls, groans, or outright anger. Of course, he has plenty of defenders, while others remain indifferent. But the man’s name is still, in large part, verboten in the wider cycling culture.

However, bike riders are a relatively small sliver of American society. Lycra-clad cyclists are an even smaller cut of the pie.

And while almost everyone knows Lance Armstrong as the guy who cheated in order to win seven Tours de France, they’re more likely to forgive and forget, especially in the very unlikely event that Stars on Mars is any good.

Soon, if this rehabilitation effort works, much of America might not even think of bike racing when it comes to Lance Armstrong. And maybe that was always the plan.

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