The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) has announced a partnership with triathlon series organiser Ironman that will see its eponymous founder and seven-time Tour de France champion compete in a number of Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events around the world with the stated aim of raising $1 million for people affected by cancer.
The events that Armstrong, who competed in triathlon as a teenager before concentrating on road cycling, will race as a member of Team Livestrong include Ironman 70.3 races in Panama, Texas, Florida and Hawaii, plus Ironman France, with the eventual target of securing qualification for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii this October.
“I am grateful to Ironman for partnering with Livestrong to raise funds and awareness for people affected by cancer,” said Armstrong, who formally retired from cycling for a second time shortly after last year’s Santos Tour Down Under.
“In my career as an athlete and as a cancer advocate, I’ve learned that progress demands partnership, but it’s not without a struggle,” he added. “And that’s what Team Livestrong is about – it’s about purpose; it’s about challenge and it’s about empowering survivors to fight like hell. There’s progress to be made with cancer and we invite anyone up for the challenge to join Team Livestrong”.
The announcement comes just days after it was revealed that a Federal investigation into alleged doping at Armstrong’s former US Postal Service team had been dropped, although the US Anti-Doping Agency has confirmed that it will continue with its own probe.
The Texan cyclist, who already had a World Championship win in his palmarès, set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997 as he recovered from the testicular cancer that had spread to his stomach, lungs and brain, with doctors giving him less that a 40 per cent chance of survival.
He would go on to win the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005, an unparalleled seven victories in all, and was on the podium again in 2009, finishing third after emerging from retirement with Astana.
Along the way, the yellow Livestrong bracelet became a highly visible symbol of the fight against cancer and perhaps even a fashion accessory of sorts.
The conclusion of Armstrong’s final participation in 2010 in the race he once dominated was marked by controversy as the RadioShack team he co-founded delayed the start of the final stage into Paris as they were required to change out of unauthorised Livestrong commemorative jerseys they planned to wear.
The publicity, of course, as TV cameras showed riders fiddling with safety pins on race numbers, was priceless.
A number of bloggers, as well as journalist Bill Gifford, writing in Outdoor magazine earlier this year, have tried to lift the veil over how exactly the $450 million raised over the years by Livestrong and the LAF is actually spent, but despite the controversy surrounding him, Armstrong remains a major draw and the partnership announced today is bound to boost Ironman’s profile.
“At 13 years old, Lance got his start in triathlon by racing in the IronKids Series,” commented Andrew Messick, Chief Executive Officer of World Triathlon Corporation, organiser of the series.
“At 16 years old, he went pro and was considered a star in our sport. At only 18, he was racing against the best triathletes in the world: Mark Allen, Dave Scott and Scott Molina. We are happy to have him return to our sport. Lance is a fierce competitor and his involvement with Ironman and Ironman 70.3 is good for triathlon.”
Ironman world champions Scott Tinley, Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto also welcomed the announcement that Armstrong was to compete in the sport.
“Lance is an exceptional athlete; he’s the type of person who wants to excel and be the best at whatever he puts his mind to,” said Lieto. “I’m excited to see how his participation in our sport will draw attention to what it takes to be a triathlete and how challenging it can be.
“It will definitely bring triathlon more into the mainstream and I know pro athletes, including myself, will look forward to racing with him at future events.”
Team Livestrong is also making available a limited number of places at Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events to the public and details can be found on its website.