Lance Armstrong: Sandbagger?

Posted by on Aug 19, 2009 in Bike, Races | 14 Comments

A conversation with Brad Keyes sparked the following question:

Does showing up to and winning a mountain bike race in a small town in Colorado make Lance Armstrong a sandbagger?

Yes: He is a 7-time Tour de France winner, World Champion, former Olympian, etc. He hardly needs an introduction, right? He turns up at the Leadville 100 (with an informal team no less) and smokes the field, beating his nearest competitor by nearly 30 minutes. Why? What is left to prove for him? That he can rip the legs off of a bunch of full time dad’s, accountants, sales reps, and other various cubicle pushers all riding in the biggest race of their lives? What, returning to the pinnacle of professional road racing this summer was not enough for Lance? No, apparently it was not enough. In fact, he had to take a jab at all those shlubs who have worked all summer long in hopes of crossing that finish line in under 9 hours:

“I can see myself being here when I’m 50 finishing in 9 hours (laughter), beating Carmichael’s ass.”

Oh. Right. Way to take a bit of shine out of all those new belt buckles.

On the other hand…

No: Indeed, Lance is one of the best bike riders of any era. But last year he raced at Leadville, and lost to Dave Wiens*, who is, obviously, no slouch himself. The race was close and competitive and quite entertaining to watch, from afar. In 2009 Lance came back in better shape, and with a better idea how to race the Leadville 100. Something I am sure every repeat rider hopes to accomplish. He rode over 60 miles alone (so much for that informal team) in difficult conditions. He earned the victory fair and square, and I’d argue that all those riders who chased him for 100 miles are better off for doing so. After all, competition breeds excellence, right?

*At the 2007 Vapor Trail 125 Dave manned the aid station that we all came through right after sunrise. He was cooking omelets for us. He fed me, lubed my chain, and sent me on my way, feeling like a million bucks. It was, in a geeky sort of way, one of the coolest moments for me on a bike. (Oh, and he is a father of twins, like Lance. And me. And Fatty.)

There has to be a certain cache´ to racing against Lance. I’d like to do it, just to, you know, say that I did. It must be the same feeling I have had in several solo events when Tinker Juarez, Chris Eatough, Nat Ross, and several other heavy hitters in the MTB world are standing next to me on the start line. It was, of course, as close as I ever was to them during the race, unless you count the multiple times they lapped me. Which, um, I do.

But back to the pertinent question. Sandbagger? Maybe. Just a little. I can certainly think of other races that a current podium TdF finisher would be lining up for that are more important, and more competitive (for him) than the Leadville 100. But then, who cares? In one of those weak “it’s good for the sport” cliche’s, I think what Lance has done at Leadville is, well, good for the sport.

Who knows, maybe next year he can join all the TdF doping convicts at the Tour of Utah. I jest! I love the ToU. Really, I do. Calm down. Deep breath. It. Was. A. Joke. All right good, glad we cleared that up.

Exit Question: Lance, sandbagger?


  1. mtb w
    August 19, 2009

    I agree it was a little bit sandbagging (albeit he is beating many of the best pros mtb has to offer, including Jay Henry, in short XC races and endurance races) and, at times, his presence overshadowed the whole event (the start of Leadville even had a helicopter overhead). But overall, his presence is “good for the sport”. He is bringing national exposure to many of these smaller races and to the sport of mountain biking. Hopefully, his continued participation in all types of cycling events will bring a larger audience and more participants.

    (My personal feeling is Weins is a better ambassador for the sport. He seems more like a down to earth, family man who is willing to give back to the community (not to say LA doesn’t give back, particularly with his livestrong foundation). But, he doesn’t have the $$ or live the celebrity lifestyle that the media craves.)

  2. Bob
    August 19, 2009

    Undecided on sandbagger, leaning towards no, but he is a tool.

  3. Ed
    August 19, 2009




  4. SkiMoab
    August 19, 2009

    I don’t really think so. I think he sees a new discipline in the sport that he enjoys. He also went straight for one of the toughest, most competitive races out there.

    In the end, I think most of his motivation is personal improvement/validation and raising awareness for the Livestrong Foundation, any way he can.

  5. Bob
    August 19, 2009

    Speaking of tools, someone needs a hug,

    towards the end of the post.

  6. goreedgo
    August 19, 2009

    Even if he is, who is suffering because of it? The organizers like it. The racers like it. Lance and Livestrong like it. To quote Michael Scott, It’s a win-win-win.

  7. mark
    August 19, 2009

    He got his ass kicked last year. Enough said.

    It was a highlight for me to race “against” him. I’m glad he was there, even if he is a bit of a jerk.

    Levi, on the other hand, is a complete and total pansy. Trash talking about a race he didn’t even enter. Sheesh.

  8. Bill Henderson
    August 19, 2009

    Sandbagger? No. It is an honor to race against guys that are good. He blew by me twice at the 12 hours of Snowmass last year, and seemed courteous doing it, just fast, just in his own zone, no complaints. To expect that he should just lock himself away from the working class until he shows up for the TdF seems silly, and pointless.

    I was at an event once, a collection of retired pro riders, telling stories of their glory days. At the Q&A segment, someone from the crowd asked; “Do you ever want to show up at a local race, just to see, just for the fun of it?” One of the retired pros could not grab the mic quick enough; “I never raced for the fun of it then, why would I start now?” he sneered. Kinda made me sick. I felt sorry for him. I love that sometimes I get a taste of what it is to feel really fast, but I never want a taste of what made that guy race.

  9. Ned
    August 19, 2009

    Yes – definitely sandbagging! Lance did the same thing in 1988 at the Staten Island Tri. It had good good prize money, mainly provided by the sponsors to “kick” a little money to there sponsored riders (I was one of them and direct money from sponsors, unless you declared yourself a pro was not permitted). Lance decided to stay a couple of extra days in NYC and do the race. He had met during the days before with Motorola people to discuss joining their bike team.

    I did get second but, since then I ever really liked the guy or his “legalese” and “political” responses about doping allegations.

  10. Doug
    August 19, 2009

    I wonder if we would even have this question if it were another top pro? I think it would be better for the sport if Lance and all the best pro riders showed up. However my question is: If all the best pro’s were to show up would Lance show up? If the answer is No then he is a sandbagger.

    • Grizzly Adam
      August 19, 2009

      This year Tinker Juarez, Travis Brown, Manual Prada, Dave Wiens, Matt Shriver, Alex Grant and a bunch of other pros all took a crack at Lance. I guess you’d have to define “top pro”. But you make a good observation. But Lance can’t be faulted for who does not show up. Todd Wells shoots his mouth off about Leadville, criticizing Dave, but makes no mention that Lance won, nor any mention that Dave beat Lance last year. Hey, Todd, shut up and race!

  11. Doug
    August 19, 2009

    I think the talent pool just gets deeper because Lance did it again this year. Next year I am betting that more pro’s from the Mtn bike world and road world show up and do battle. By the way I am not a huge Lance fan. I just think he has been good for cycling. I tend to agree with Bob. He is a Tool bag.

  12. Jason
    August 19, 2009

    Nice post Adam. I would LEAN towards “no” on the sandbagging at Leadville. Now the Mountain States Cup, I leaning full on yes.

    I will also add, that have you noticed nowadays to mention Lance on a blog or forum is about like mentioning religion or politics?

    What the f*ck with Wells? I’d rather hear what Max Taam has to say about his 6th place finish at Leadville than what Wells had to say about his 6th place finish in a short track.

  13. slowerthensnot
    August 21, 2009

    I’d say no….

    Was pretty damn cool to ride with both DW and L last year for sure!

    DW is bar for a bigger ambassador for mtb’ing though… tons of trail built in gunny and shows up and hangs with all kinds of cyclists….

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