What, if anything, can be done to help rebuild Armstrong’s image? Lance Armstrong, after all, isn’t just a man. He’s a marketable brand, too. Since it launched in 1997, his foundation Livestrong (formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation) has raised more than $470 million for cancer awareness and research. So I asked four professionals in brand management, public relations, and consulting what advice they would give to Armstrong to help salvage what’s left of Brand Lance.
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Horrifically but undeniably, a dark, cynical leap into the deepest moral abyss seems to be exactly what Lance Armstrong’s career really was. Together with almost everyone who had been a fan and admirer of Armstrong’s achievements, both athletic and philanthropic, I’ve been wrestling with painful, complicated feelings of anger, sorrow, and disillusionment as the totality of his disgrace sinks in. But as a magazine journalist once deeply invested in covering the Armstrong era in cycling, I also feel a shock of self-recrimination as I struggle to reconcile my part in lionizing a man who, in hindsight, was almost certainly a cheat and a liar of breathtaking audacity and shamelessness. How could I have characterized the rumors and accusations that Lance relied on banned performance-enhancing drugs and techniques as part of a “myth”?
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Almost a month after finishing 65th in his last competitive race in Australia, and nearly six years removed from the last of an unprecedented seven straight Tour de France titles, the 39-year-old cyclist made clear there is no reset button this time.
This time, he’s leaving professional racing behind for good.
“Never say never,” Armstrong laughed at the start of an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, then quickly added, “Just kidding.”
His retirement ends a comeback effort that failed to produce an eighth title or diminish talk that performance-enhancing drugs helped his career. The timing has as much to do with his growing responsibilities and family as it does with the physical limitations time has imposed. He’s tired, and tired of being hounded. Armstrong will miss competing — let alone dominating a sport like none before him — but not the 24/7/365 training regimen that made it possible.
“I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another tour,” Armstrong said about his comeback attempt in 2009, four years after his first retirement. “Then I lined up like everybody else and wound up third.”