Lance Armstrong declares war on the French hotel industry

Fluffed pillows with chocolate treat unlikely to await Texan on next visit to France

by Simon_MacMichael   August 12, 2010  

Lance Armstrong (pic courtesy Photosport International)

You’d think that with a team of lawyers and PR advisors currently working hard to combat allegations of doping in what is shaping up to be one of the most high profile investigations into drug abuse in sport ever seen, the last thing Lance Armstrong needs would be a battle on another front.

Well, think again. It’s perhaps just as well that the RadioShack rider has announced that he’s taken part in his last Tour de France after he managed yesterday to insult a large chunk of the French hotel sector.

More specifically, he laid into those establishments used to put up cyclists overnight between stages of the Tour de France, describing them as “horrible,” according to a report on the Culture Map Houston website.

Armstrong had been engaged as a keynote speaker at yesterday’s closing session of the National Business Travel Association’s annual convention, held this year in Houston, Texas.

Following a stock speech in which Armstrong spoke of his battle against cancer, sporting achievements and the work of his Livestrong charity, the moderator, with a view to getting the cyclist to engage with the trade audience during a Q&A session, asked him about his experiences of travel.

After all, here was a multimillionaire, internationally famous sportsman who also heads up a major charity and does his fair share of travelling on business, who was also collecting what one imagines would have been a decent fee for his appearance. 

Not for Armstrong, however, a description of his endorsement of private jet share business FlexJet, or his thoughts on reviews of luxury hotels that appear on the Livestrong website; instead, he laid into the French.

"Most of my travel — at least in Europe — was in France, staying in these ... You're competing in the biggest race in the world and you're stuck staying in these horrible hotels,” he said. Quickly, he added: “There are no French hotel owners in here, are there?"

If Armstrong expected the audience to laugh at that remark, he was wrong. In fact, the woman moderating the session who had put the question to him happens to work for a major French hotel chain.

Gamely, she volunteered, “"I'm going to have to disagree," and even offered to put him up in a top-notch hotel next time he visits France.

That gesture may have been meant as an olive branch – although if anything, it should perhaps have been Armstrong apologising to his host – but the cyclist failed to grasp it, and reportedly went on to reel off the names of the hotels that hadn’t lived up to his standards.

Although it wasn’t reported which hotels in particular Armstrong had issues with, there’s a fair chance that one of the chains owned by France-based hotelier Accor, such as Mercure, Ibis, Formule 1 or Novotel, would have figured; not only is the company, which has 4,000 hotels worldwide, nearly a quarter of them in the United States, the biggest hotel operator in France, its Etap brand also acts as an official supplier to the Tour with an ad featuring in the pre-race publicity caravan.

Given that players participating at events such as the FIFA Wolrd Cup stay in luxurious resort hotels, it may come as a surprise that cycling teams with bigger budgets don’t try to book their riders into the best-appointed hotels available.

However, Article 9 of the Tour de France rules stipulates that those taking part in the race and their team managers must sleep and take their meals “in the premises designated for this purpose by the organisation, to the exclusion of any other.”

And with nearly 200 riders starting the race, as well as team support staff and other essential race crew – not to mention a huge media presence and fans who prefer not to go the camping or motorhome route – local hoteliers come under severe capacity problems during the Tour.

Race organisers ASO, who clearly know the route before anyone else does, are able to plan accordingly, but even then the pressure is particularly felt in more remote, rural or mountain locations where infrastructure is lacking in the first place and the team hotel may be nowhere near the stage finish or the start of the following day’s racing.

ASO does, however, seek to ensure an even spread of quality of hotel throughout the race so that each team gets its fair share of the best establishments available as well as some less salubrious overnight stays.

Even then, there is scope for teams to make things as comfortable as possible for their riders, since for a professional sportsman taking part in what many see as the most grueling event in the sporting calendar, a good night’s sleep is essential.

That’s why Team Sky, very much in keeping with its aggregation of marginal gains philosophy, even brought its own beds, duvets and pillows along to await its riders at the team hotel each evening during this year's race. We’ll let you make your own mind up about how much of a difference that made.

After yesterday's speech, as Armstrong refused to answer questions from reporters regarding the ongoing doping investigation, around half a dozen delegates to the conference hung around near him, a far cry from the crowds that accompanied him during his heyday.

One person he did speak to – an attendee at the conference who happened to be an Armstrong fan and was appropriately dressed in yellow – described the cyclist as “an inspiration” but admitted that even he wasn’t sure any more about whether the Texan had ridden clean throughout his career.

The delegate, Peter Murao from Los Angeles, said afterwards: "The truth is the truth. I don't know whether he did it or not. But there's a lot of people talking ... One way or the other, the truth will come out eventually. Even if he was on something, it doesn't take away from everything he accomplished. He's still an amazing story."

13 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Lance should have tried the Campeneille we stayed in for last year's Etape. I'm sure he wasn't served a plastic cup of Chocolate Angel Delight as pudding after climbing Ventoux. Not the first time I's wished my grasp of French was extensive and explicit. Had to content my self with screwing up my face and saying "c'est Merde!" It was greeted by the Gallic sneer so common to many a French hotel. That said. Stayed in the Central in Pau this year and they were lovely!

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1223 posts]
12th August 2010 - 13:09


I imagine Lance didnt have to deal with the joys of the formule 1 hotels in Tarbes, Pau and Bordeaux then?! He would have cause to complain. Euskaltel, Lampre and Caisse D'Epagne stayed at the Mercure in Pau...looked nice from the outside!

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
12th August 2010 - 13:42


Hmm are Road CC taking the British cycling stance of writing about Lance must be made in derogatory tones?

posted by gazzaputt [196 posts]
12th August 2010 - 13:53


Nope, we're totally Lance neutral - honest. But it would be hard to portray what seems like a fairly open and shut case of bad manners by Mr A in a flattering light.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
12th August 2010 - 14:20


I'm tempted to suggest we all rally round and apologise on his behalf - I cannot imagine Mr A being welcomed back with open arms !

Cycling - not just a pastime or sport - free your soul on the open road.

timbola's picture

posted by timbola [234 posts]
12th August 2010 - 15:34


Wow, sales rep Peter Murau, i really respect his opinion - great addition to the article there.

posted by finbar [120 posts]
13th August 2010 - 16:29


Hey, Mr Seven Time TdF Winner, at least you didn't have to pay to stay in them! We the Great Unwashed actually have to fork out OURSELVES to be subject to the tortures of French beds (too short and narrow), cuisine (surprisingly shit for the supposed gastronic centre of the world) and plumbing (no explanation needed). Seriously, though, it's worth going off piste if you have an option and seek out the non-Formule 1/ibis hostelries which may be equally as shit but at least are authentically shit.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
13th August 2010 - 17:54


All things considered, LA does project the image of being a charmless nerk.


posted by Grizzerly [210 posts]
13th August 2010 - 18:27


French chain motel/hotels used to be so much less expensive than British chain examples but times have changed. Fortunately i cannot afford either, so content myself with what is offered along the way by well meaning and generous individuals.

Racers are regulated and their teams do a fair bit to alleviate the "Discomfort" that most people suffer. Pau was 3/4 days of seclusion for Radio Shack Racers so it would be hard to imagine they were uncomfortable whilst there and it has been known for teams to stay in alternative (approved!?) hotels.

Hotel Trianon in Paris i am sure was not a hotel that Lance was taking to task, but then that was after the tour was won !

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [409 posts]
13th August 2010 - 19:02


I have stayed in a few hotels in France and have my faves. I don't blame what Lance said I like a clean decent hotel and you end up paying for it!

Who would go back to a hotel that was naff?

I like my bike but it needs a hidden 25cc motor Smile

Fish_n_Chips's picture

posted by Fish_n_Chips [380 posts]
13th August 2010 - 22:32


I think the hotel that Skippy is referring to is infact Hotel de Crillon and not Trianon. Fantastic hotel, though way outside most peoples' budget.

posted by ourtel [62 posts]
14th August 2010 - 8:50


"Lance Armstrong declares war on the French hotel industry"
No he doesn't.
"he laid into the French"
Not on the evidence of this. While it's true that Lance will pick a fight in an empty room, all he appears to be saying here is that thirty nights in a Mercure isn't to his taste, and it's hard to disagree. France is full of delightful and characterful hotels, but none of them are owned by Acor.
Interesting stuff though - I had no idea they were stuck with designated hotels.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [32 posts]
15th August 2010 - 20:58


I think we can all sympathise with Lances view of things, I for one have stayed in some awful excuses for hotels in France and trying to complain no matter how well you speak French just appears to get you a shrug as if they don't really understand. After a hard day on the pushbike, no matter what level you ride, a good bed and good food is a small ask Confused

Rode the E'Tape Caledonia - first sportiv ever and thoroughly enjoyed it

badbunny's picture

posted by badbunny [71 posts]
16th August 2010 - 7:50