Disgraced pro cyclist Lance Armstrong is returning to the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) next Sunday when more than 20,000 cyclists pull out of Rock Valley for the cross-state ride.
It’s one of the few places he’s felt comfortable after authorities stripped him of 7 Tour de France titles for doping.
This will be Armstrong’s sixth RAGBRAI. The 42-year-old started riding in the longest-running cross-state bike tour after he first retired from cycling to raise money for his cancer charity.
After those first couple of years, some riders called Armstrong’s attendance a distraction; the ride could be renamed LAGBRAI for all the attention Armstrong received. Still, riders describe a swelling roar of cheering as Armstrong and his small cadre of cyclists plowed past other riders along the route.
The Des Moines Register reports that, after all of Armstrong’s troubles surfaced, ride director T.J. Juskiewicz told him he was still welcome to ride in RAGBRAI. Armstrong said:
“Twenty-four months ago, there certainly were no welcome mats. … T.J. was literally, no he was the first guy to say, ‘You’re family, we support you, we forgive you and the welcome mat is out.’ … The reality is, the more and more time goes by, there are more welcome mats. But you never forget the person who put the first one out — and that was RAGBRAI.”
Armstrong has lost his titles, sponsorships, and court battles since the doping accusations stuck. Still, he hopes to one day regain some measure of respectability.
“My path back, if there ever is one — and I don’t know if there is — is through things like RAGBRAI or a charitable bike ride or just some other unofficial, unsanctioned gathering of athletes.”
Off the bike at RAGBRAI, Armstrong plans to volunteer as a bartender at a street party in Rock Valley the night before the ride starts. The party seeks to raise funds to help people stricken by flooding in the community.