Lance on the bike at Panama 70.3

This past Sunday Lance Armstrong marked his return to triathlon with a remarkable second place finish at Panama 70.3 against a strong field of competitors including one of triathlon’s strongest cyclists, Chris Lieto.  Going into the race predictions for his results were all across the board if you looked at the Slowtwitch forums, or at the response Tri It Multisport had to it’s #LanceTris twitter contest.  Few people predicted he would finish as strong as he did, and if one thing is for certain, triathlon’s top athletes have been put on notice that there is a new contender in the ring.

I honestly do believe that Lance Armstrong returning to triathlon is a good thing.  I know that there’s been some debate on this around the web but the Livestrong marketing machine brings the sport a level of attention and appeal that few organizations can rival.  Even marginally more media coverage and general public interest is sure to appeal to equipment manufacturers and sponsors alike, which in turn means more funding for races, greater selection of equipment brands, and hopefully bigger purses for pros.  I don’t think that Lance can do for triathlon what he did for cycling in the US, but at the very least he participation in the sport lends credence to its legitimacy as a mainstream sport.  Lets not forget, that triathlon has only been an Olympic sport since 2000, which is very recent when you consider that the bar is set pretty low for what’s considered a sport in the summer Olympics.

With Lance comes the controversy associated with the doping allegations that have followed him around since his earliest Tour de France days.  I don’t want to weigh in on whether he did or didn’t dope.  The way I see it, if he doped, he was a doper who beat all the other dopers, if he didn’t dope, he was clean and beat all the dopers.  Don’t get me wrong, any sport at any level has to be clean, but I think that the USADA and WADA should concern itself with ensuring sport is clean today rather than digging up graves to see who wasn’t clean in the past.  Its an embarrassment to see that there are still so many elite athletes using PEDs today while the USADA and WADA are busy carrying out what seems to be a personal vendetta against Lance Armstrong.  Rather than spending millions of dollars pursuing Lance, anti doping agencies should be spending resources on increased random testing for athletes and more mandatory testing at events.  Similarly, to quell any controversy that Lance brings to the sport, the WTC should redouble its efforts to test its athletes and do so in the most transparent and thorough manner possible.

Lance’s performance at Panama 70.3 was truly exceptional, the guy is 40.  Some people are going to see that in and of itself reason for suspicion.  What a lot of people don’t know is that when Lance Armstrong was 15 he was racing against Mark Allen and Dave Scott, arguably triathlon’s two greatest living legends.  Simply put, he’s a machine, he’s been racing and winning at sport’s highest levels since long before anyone could reasonably accuse him of doping.

If anything is certain, I think we can all look forward to one of the most exciting years for triathlon in quite some time.