Armstrong can't afford to return

On hearing the news that Lance Armstrong was planning a comeback, a former professional said: “They can’t ever stay away, can they?”

The practicalities do not stand up. Armstrong is fit, and he is a driven man. He is registered on the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s out-of-competition drug testing system, meaning he could, in theory, take out a racing licence from February 1.

But none of those things equates to a comeback. A comeback has been suggested before, and it did not happen.

The central issue is that Armstrong is persona non grata at the Tour de France, and any team that included him would be unlikely to get a start.

The Astana team were refused entry this year partly because of the squad’s positive tests during, before and after the 2007 tour, but also because when Astana was relaunched, the sponsors looked to Armstrong’s old mentor, Johan Bruyneel.

The feeling at the Tour was that a clean break with the Armstrong era was necessary if the race was to be relaunched, because of the persistent allegations of drug-taking around the American, even though these have all been hotly denied in the absence of any sanctionable positive tests.

Hence Astana and Bruyneel’s exclusion this year. Those factors make a mockery of the notion that an Armstrong comeback could include The tour and Paris-Nice.

There is no reason for Armstrong to make a comeback, unless it is to compete in lesser events for a team that has no aspiration to get into the Tour, but even that defies any logic: he might as well accept reality and compete with the amateurs.

There is a difference between a race like the Tour and the occasional marathon, or a long-distance mountain bike race. These are one-offs rather than a sustained campaign of professional bike racing, let alone a major tour.

The notion that Armstrong could change opinions about whether or not he achieved his wins legitimately, by posting his blood-test results on the internet, is laughable.

Those who have strong feelings about the question are either for the American or against him, and positions are so entrenched that no one is likely to change their minds.

The fact that he might be able to claim he was competing “clean” at 37 years in 2009 and offer evidence to back it up would not relate to what he achieved between 1999 and 2005 and how he achieved it.

So, a comeback could happen on paper, for a non-tour team, in lesser races, but what might it achieve other than make a few headlines for a sponsor and enable Armstrong to avoid moving on from life as a professional cyclist?

A seven-time tour winner trying to win smaller races and quite possibly getting whipped by younger riders would be like watching an ageing boxer unable to walk away from the ring, and paying the price, and doing so in public. That is not to say that Armstrong might not try it, but he need not, and he should not. -

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