Love him or loathe him, Lance Armstrong is back… and quite possibly here to stay | John Whitney

Has The Move podcast signalled the return of Lance Armstrong?

Illustration of Lance Armstrong

What was your go-to podcast at this year’s Tour de France? There was probably at least one.

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These are boom times for the medium; in September 2018, Ofcom reported that weekly podcast listeners in the UK had almost doubled from 3.2m in 2013 to 5.9m last year, and figures will surge again this year.

This growth was there to see during the Tour when there was no work commute long enough or beach holiday leisurely enough to listen to all of the audio offerings piped into our phones each morning.

From the established, such as ITV’s post-TV broadcast ramble and the knowledgeable The Cycling Podcast, to newer efforts such as The Bradley Wiggins Show (updated to daily shows this year) and the BBC’s BeSpoke. Even Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe found time amid trying to win the thing to launch Watts Occurring. And we have our own podcast on BikeRadar, of course.

Call it professional duty, or obsessive fandom, but I sampled most of them during those three weeks of July. And none more so than disgraced former pro Lance Armstrong’s The Move podcast.

Lance Armstrong, 2001 Tour de France, Alpe d'Huez
Lance Armstrong, pictured on Alpe d’Huez at the 2001 Tour de France, is back, whether you like it or not.
Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com

My listening is something of a guilty pleasure, tuning in almost against my better judgement.

Essentially a three-way nightly recap of the day’s stage, with Armstrong joined by friend and Austin DJ JB Hager, and former teammate George Hincapie, The Move has steadily grown over the past three years, in stature, relevance and as a money-maker for its creator. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that, for the past two Tours, it has generated $1m in revenue.

Podcasting, both with this and his Forward show, where Armstrong interviews people outside of cycling, have been the ideal vehicle for the disgraced former champion to resurrect his career. By bypassing traditional media, Armstrong, unfiltered, is able to directly reach his fans, and judging by The Move’s download figures (it topped the US sports podcast charts during the Tour) he still has plenty of them.

So what’s appealing about it? It’s not the most professionally-produced show – Armstrong can get sidetracked and isn’t shy in talking over his colleagues, and he doesn’t always get things right (listen to other cycling podcasts if you value accuracy!).

I also get close to switching off when he gets into settling scores (listen to how he lays into the Trek team with particular relish), or talk about the perceived injustices that have come from his ‘story’, as he euphemistically calls it.

Listen to him now, however, and the confidence and bravado is back with a vengeance. This is Armstrong emboldened

It’s at times like this when you wonder whether ‘Lance 3.0’ as Hincapie calls it – the new version of Armstong born out of his 2012 downfall – is totally legit.

Why The Move works is all down to Armstrong’s charisma, which despite his trevails of the past few years, remains intact.

It undoubtedly took a hit – listen to his early Forward interviews and, whether that’s because he’s outside of his cycling comfort zone or the trauma of what he’d gone through, he seems genuinely vulnerable. Listen to him now, however, and the confidence and bravado is back with a vengeance.

This is Armstrong emboldened, unshackled from his settling on the lawsuit with the US government that he said threatened bankruptcy, or perhaps the $100,000 investment in Uber that netted him upwards of $50m.

Money aside – and it is clearly flowing into the coffers again – Armstrong must be delighted with how relevant he is again. It’s a Lazarus-like return.

It’s one thing having a hit podcast, but this summer saw Armstrong back on network television in the US, taking the mic to commentate (unpaid) on NBC’s Tour coverage.

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To some it’s a step too far to give such a platform to a man with a lifetime ban, but it would be far from the first time a doper has called a bike race. Like it or not, 2019 was the summer when Armstrong’s rehabilitation was, dare we say it, turbocharged.