Armstrong`s bike-mad Texas hometown stands by him
The proud fans of Lance Armstrong in his Texas hometown Austin stood by their cycling hero Friday despite a decision by the US anti-doping agency to strip him of his Tour de France titles.
It is easy to find signs of Armstrong`s presence here, a city that embraced the cyclist as a gritty champion who overcame testicular cancer to dominate a sport that Americans once considered the domain of Europeans.
After his tour victories, Austin celebrated with Lance Armstrong Days and parades in his honor, and the Austin City Council created a six-mile (9.6-kilometer) bikeway through the center of the city that is named for him.
"I don`t like it at all," said University of Texas student Brianne Morell as she walked on the bikeway. "He`s a gifted athlete and he has been great for the reputation of Austin, and it does sadden me."
Several blocks away is a popular bike shop that Armstrong owns and the home of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which Armstrong created in 1997 and has helped to raise nearly $500 million to fund cancer-fighting causes.
Despite the news that Armstrong would lose his titles, business was bustling at Armstrong`s "Mellow Johnny`s Bike Shop", where the walls are adorned with seven autographed Yellow Jerseys, overlooking dozens of shiny bikes.
Employees, some of whom sported yellow "Livestrong" bracelets to support his charity, were close-mouthed, saying they had no comment beyond an official statement Armstrong released Thursday night.
Customer Ross Bennett, who was placing a tire on his road bike, said no matter what the record shows, Armstrong is a Tour de France winner.
"It sucks, but they had to do it," Bennett said. "In his mind and in the minds of his fans he won those fair and square."
City and foundation officials stood by Armstrong, insisting that his legacy transcends the sport and includes his efforts to fight cancer and to encourage people to become active to improve their health.
"As far as I`m concerned, Lance Armstrong will always be a hero and this doesn`t change that," said Austin City Council Member Chris Riley, just as he and city officials unveiled a new urban cycling track.
Riley, a cycling enthusiast who rode to the news conference on his bike, said he would not support changing the name of the downtown bikeway, adding: "I`m proud to have him in Austin and proud to have the bikeway."
In the shade of a nearby tree, Doug Ballew, a city worker in cycling attire, said: "It`s very disappointing that they would target Lance for this when it`s clear that there are so many issues with doping in all sports."
Across the street, Robin Chotzinoff, a contributor to Bicycling magazine and a sometime musician, said: "I`m depressed."
Chotzinoff, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and toting a guitar, said she had been inspired by Armstrong`s determination to recover from cancer after she read his 2000 book, "It`s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life."
While doping rumors dogged the seven-time Tour de France champion throughout his career, some said they were surprised Armstrong gave up his hard-nosed defense against drug-testing authorities.
"I would have preferred he fight it," said Baird Smith, 34, a bicyclist who stopped on his way to lunch at a barbeque restaurant. "His personality is to never stop fighting."
His sentiments were echoed by comments posted on the website of the local newspaper, Statesman.com.
Many people defended Armstrong, saying it was unfair to take away his titles so long after his victories and, in part because they believed all the top cyclists abused performance-enhancing drugs.
"Is it possible for anyone to win the Tour de France without doping?" Chotzinoff said.
But the comments were not one-sided even here. Some wrote that they felt betrayed and called Armstrong a "cheater" and a "disgrace."
"It`s now a fact and I`m not wondering any more. It`s disappointing, but it doesn`t surprise me," said Jared Stevens, straddling his bike and drinking water.
Officials with the Lance Armstrong Foundation said they will continue to support Armstrong and to assist those diagnosed with cancer.