Jim Tanner: Cycling's rise lives on in Armstrong's legacy

Jim Tanner: Cycling's rise lives on in Armstrong's legacy

August 26th, 2012 by Jim Tanner in Sportscolumns

In this July 6, 2010, file photo, Lance Armstrong grimaces prior to the start of the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race in Wanze, Belgium. Armstrong said on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, that he is finished fighting charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his unprecedented cycling career, a decision that could put his string of seven Tour de France titles in jeopardy.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

POLL: Did Lance Armstrong take performance-enhancing drugs?

As the international fallout continues over the lifetime ban for doping handed down by the United States Anti-Doping Association to cycling legend Lance Armstrong, life goes on in the world of cycling.

Amanda Ragle of Nashville had her own race to worry about Saturday afternoon in downtown Chattanooga.

Ragle and her husband were in town to compete in the two-day Village Volkswagen River Gorge Omnium, which brought several riders to town to compete in a time trial, downtown criterium and road race as part of the Tennessee Bicycle Racing Association series.

"This is definitely the best TBRA race," Ragle said as she warmed up for her Women's Cat 3 race in the Lynskey Performance Southern Sunset Criterium downtown. "The support as far as bike shops and restaurants has been great. Everyone is so welcoming."

And maybe that's the enduring legacy of Armstrong despite his ban and the potential loss of his seven Tour de France titles. Since his reign of dominance began in the late 1990s, American cycling has seen exponential growth with more and more people throughout the country taking up road and mountain biking -- both recreationally and competitively.

Here in Chattanooga, there are more cyclists on the road than ever before, and organizations such as the Chattanooga Bike Club and the local chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association are making the sport more accessible to new riders.

The city's commitment to cycling brings an economic impact as well, with events such as the River Gorge Omnium and next May's USA Pro Cycling Championships bringing more cyclists and cycling fans to town and boosting the local economy.

Don Erwin, sales manager for local high-end bicycle maker Lynskey Performance Designs, believes the growth of cycling locally has only just begun.

"This race is in its infancy," Erwin said of Saturday's criterium. "This our second year of involvement, and we plan on being around for a long time.

"We see some incredible potential. ... Chattanooga is filled with road bikers, triathlon racers, mountain bikers. I mean its just such a cool cycling town."

There's not much doubt that the growth in cycling in the U.S. is a direct result of Armstrong's success, and Chattanooga is a direct beneficiary of the the sport's popularity. For that, as well as his cancer research work through the Livestrong Foundation, perhaps there's some level where Armstrong's legacy in cycling will live on despite the USADA sanctions.

Make no mistake, if Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career as the USADA claims, then he deserves to have his accomplishments wiped out. No one should be beyond reach, and there should be no place for doping in any sport.

But perhaps he still deserves some credit for inspiring so many people to get out and live healthier lives as well as for giving hope and inspiration to cancer victims and their families.

As she rolled down Market Street toward the start of her race Saturday, Ragle seemed ready to look toward a more hopeful future in cycling while recognizing Armstrong's role in bringing the sport this far.

"I support Lance and what he's done for cancer research, and the awareness he's brought to our sport," she said. "As far as he being held accountable, I don't even like to talk about that. I like to stay positive.

"I think the sport is going, hopefully, in a better direction as a cleaner sport. And that's what everyone wants, just a clean sport where people race against each other fair and square."