So, with the Tour De France more then half over and going into it’s final week of competition I was struck with the thought, what is the state of cycling here in the US? I can remember a time when I was younger, when people seemed to have a sense of enthusiasm about the Tour de France and cycling over all. This enthusiasm was driven, with out question, by the celebrity status of Lance Armstrong at the time and what he was accomplishing in the world of cycling. At the time it was a record setting seven tour titles that drew the attention of our entire nation to all of a sudden become cycling fans. This and the question I posed my self earlier in this article drove me to dig deeper.
According to the Nation Bicycle Dealers Association’s data on bikes sold in America, 14 million bikes were sold in 2005, the year of Armstrong’s last tour win. In the year following that number dropped to 12.7. When Lance returned to cycling in 2009-2010 the figure again spiked to 13.5 and back down again in 2011 to 10 million, the year after Armstrong’s second retirement. Given between 2006 and 2010 America was amidst it’s worst financial history since the 1930’s and there are a multitude of other factors to consider, I still found it very strange how close celebrity tied to the actual figures in the bike industry.
However, Lance Armstrong is not the first American to win the Tour de France. After all Greg LeMond was the first ever American to win a tour back in 1986 and again in 89′ and 90′. Interestingly enough in the US bike sales increased in parallel with the rise of LeMond’s career. In 1982 bike sales in the US were around 6 million units and by 1986, when LeMond won his first tour, sales had more then doubled to 12.3 million and rose somewhat consistently till 2005 (Armstrong’s last tour win).
Greg LeMond on Tour in ’89 – Photo Credit: http://le-grimpeur.net/blog/archives/132
With no data on bike sales in the states yet available for this year, I am curious to see what the outcome will be. After all we have our very own Aspen, CO local, Tejay van Garderen currently in second place and looking good going into the last week of the tour. Is it possible that his success can have an effect on the industry as we know it state side?? Only time will tell. But this raises another question, one that again brings us back to the most recognizable road rider in American history, Lance Armstrong. Did Armstrong tarnish the US perception of the cycling world so poorly that no one cares about the tour anymore?
The answer to that question can only be revealed with time. The fact is that sports and our attention to them out side of the big four (MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL) is fleeting at best. Andre Agassi smokes meth, so tennis is dead. It’s not an Olympic year so who the hell is Phelps? And the fight of the century, or so it was marketed, turned out to be a flop and is now marred with controversy, boxing can pack it in as well. We have an American and better yet an Aspen local in the tour, in the run for the win and I hear more about Caitlyn Jenner day-to-day then I do Tejay. Though is could simply be a mainstream perception as cycling simply lacks the marketability it once had but the question still stands, what is the state of cycling in the US?