So much for the Lance effect

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Monday, February 20, 2006
By Yokota Fritz

Americans snagged six out of the top 10 during the Tour of California Prologue yesterday. The team most familiar to Americans, Team Discovery, stands at second place, with several other American sponsored teams -- Health Net/Maxxis, Toyota/United Pro, Navigators, Colavita, TIAA-CREF, Kodak/Sierra, Jelly Belly -- filling out the roster.

Interest in cycling was tremendous last year during and immediately following the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong's seventh win. Amgen signed on to be the title sponsor of the Tour of California to capitalize on this interest. Today, however, absolutely no mention was made of the Tour of California in my local paper (in a town with a very high population of road cyclists). The Boulder Daily Camera also had zero mention of this race. The only real online mention I've found in U.S. papers is either cycling-specific news sites (e.g. VeloNews), or in papers local to the race -- mostly Bay Area newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News.

Even large sports news portals are ignoring the event and its athletes. At CNN/SI, there are nude (literally!) Heidi Klum photos, but there's absolutely nothing to be found about the Tour of California. The latest story about Levi Leipheimer is from last July. FoxSports and ESPN at least regurgitate a wire service story about the race.

This reflects a complete disinterest in cycling among American sports editors. Sure, they're competing with the Olympics, baseball spring training (*yawn*), and some NASCAR controversy (*yawn* again - with apologies to NASCAR fan Ms. Tocci), but today's sports section of my local paper also devoted 12 column inches to a wire service filler about the celebrities who might attend the 2007 NBA All Stars games in Vegas. Give me a break.

How about it, cycling fans? If you're outside of California, did your local paper devote any space to the Tour of California today? What can you do to let team sponsors know you appreciate their support of American cycling?

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Well, it's interesting that you should mention the mainstream sports media. I would submit that for the most part, there never WAS a "Lance Effect" in those circles.

I listen to a sports show on a regular basis called "The Jim Rome Show". Mr. Rome has had Lance on his show several times, and would appear to be a true fan of his. However, there have been numerous sports "experts" on Mr. Rome's show and most notoriously, the "Drive Time" show on Fox Sports Radio, which immediately follows The Jim Rome Show on my network, that think otherwise.

These nationally known sports writers say repeatedly that cycling is not that great a sport, and may not be a sport at all due to the use of the bicycle! Yet NASCAR is considered a sport? it's got something to do with "money" and how much the sports economy is "invested" into the current state of our sports culture.

Let's face it folks, cycling has almost no economic importance in the United States. Oh sure, there are events drawing in some dollars, and there is economic impact. But I'm talking about the money generated by the "culture" of sports. I mean, how many dollars are brought in by hat sales for Dale Jr. alone? Probably more than the Tour of California will, REALLY!

What's it all mean? Well, the "Lance Effect" is a drop in the bucket to most sports phenomenons, so it must not be related to "sport", right? I mean, who are they going to alienate economically by saying that? The people waving their "Terrible Towels" last January probably spent more money on that single event than Americans do on cycling in a year.

It's all where the money is, and there doesn't appear to be any money in cycling events in the eyes of corporate America.
I live right outside Philadelphia, PA and subscribe to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Last time I checked we were still a major metro area, something like 5th or 6th in the SMSA. No mention in the Sunday or Monday papers. Plenty of Olympic coverage, including one reporter's harrowing tale of eating the display sandwich, one that apparently was not meant for human consumption.

Plenty of Daytona 500 coverage, but not one tiny mention of only the second professional bicycle stage race in the US since the demise of the Tour duPont.

I could think of dozens of angles. Sponsored by Amgen, EPO producer? Tie it in to the predictable Oylmpic doping scandals. Lance effect? Write about how this is the first stage race in the US since Lance retired and will anybody care? I think journos are lazy and it just requires too much explanation.
I went to the SI site and couldn't find those Heidi Klum photos. What gives? Ok, I probably just didn't look closely enough.

Seriously though, I think that cycling isn't that interesting to people who aren't really into it -- my girlfriend likes cycling but doesn't understand why I'm so into it. Combine that with the fact the creator of EPO is sponsoring a competition that's supposed to come down hard on dopers and you've got what amounts to a credibility crisis.

When other sports are faced with adversity they don't go out and make a deal with the proverbial devil to promote the biggest event outside of the sport's traditional stomping grounds. For example, you won't see MLB signing a deal with Balco, simply because it would look really, really bad.

And while I agree with most sane people that NASCAR isn't a 'true sport' and we'll never see it in the Olympics, it draws recreational viewers because people like the competitive aspect of the spectacle. That and the playing field is supposedly level when it comes to the 'athletes' / drivers and their vehicles.

Ok, that, and the money just isn't there either. It seems as though people love throwing money at their cars, their golf clubs, and sitting on their sofas with their XBox 360s a whole lot more than they enjoy getting out on their bicycles for a spin around the block.

Is it wrong? Maybe. But it's all about perception and street cred -- something that cycling really doesn't have when it comes to mainstream media and the public at large.

And don't get me wrong, I'll defend the sport of cycling to the ends of the earth. But I can't get behind a pro event that thinks it's ok to get into bed with its biggest enemy (and I'm not talking just about Amgen -- I'm talking more about a drug manufacturer whose product is used illicitly to enhance an athlete's performance) and then expects everyone else to think it's a good idea.

So, yeah, it's all about perception, and top flight cycling doesn't have the best rep. right now.
I work at a newspaper in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and we have yet to see a word about the race come across on our wires, The Associated Press and Knight Ridder/Tribune. I find the latter odd since our paper and the San Jose Mercury News, which is extensively covering the race, are both Knight Ridder newspapers. It's difficult for us in the middle of the country to get the stories in the paper when the wire services aren't even sending any stories.
The Greenville News (South Carolina) ran a fairly lengthy AP piece on the race in the sports section of today’s paper. The front page of the paper even had a small picture of George Hincapie with a blurb pointing to the story. As a local resident, Hincapie’s recent success has resulted in increased awareness among the general population. What we are experiencing now is kind of like the “Lance Effect” that you mention, only a local scale. Regardless of the cause, I think that any extra awareness of cycling is a good thing and I am fairly optimistic that cycling will continue to gain visibility as a sport on a national scale. There is no doubt that Lance Armstrong’s fame has introduced the sport to a larger audience. Did they all become really big cycling fans? Of course not, but at least they know about cycling and now consider it a sport. These days, when a pick-up truck covered in NASCAR stickers slows down beside me, the driver is more likely to offer words of encouragement and say something about Lance or George than to yell obscenities and chuck a beer can it me. That really is an amazing transformation that I have seen in my many years of road cycling. In my opinion, it is a good thing. Cycling will probably always be a fringe sport in America, but I think that it will continue to gain popularity as the current crop of American riders succeed during the coming seasons.
It's Wednesday night/Thursday morning, and I still haven't seen anything about the Tour of California on our wire services. We may not have a high enough level of service to get The Associated Press stories here.

In your case, James, I'm sure the reason you've been able to read about the race in your newspaper is because George Hincapie lives there, thus AP is sending stories. We don't have any major cyclists who live in Illinois or Missouri in the race, so we're not getting a thing.

I don't understand why AP isn't at least sending a brief or results nationwide.
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