The Lance Armstrong Comeback: A Programming Note

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Lance Armstrong's own website, along with many others watching his comeback, repeatedly refers to January 20 as the big day our hero will return to action.

But we noticed that the Tour Down Under, the Australian stage race Armstrong has chosen for the first leg of his comeback, actually begins with a sort of prequel on Sunday, January 18, a circuit race (usually called a 'criterium' in bike lingo) through the streets of Adelaide.

A couple of days ago, the tour's website referred to this as the "Down Under Classic," and indicated that after it takes place, there would be a day off before the actual stage race begins on January 20.

We wondered if Armstrong would be taking part in the "Classic," so we shot off an e-mail to the race organizers. We got back this reply from the very helpful Michelle Logie:

The Down Under Classic takes place on the first day of the event - Sunday 18 January 2009, 7pm at Rymill Park.  All the TDU teams and riders (including Lance) will compete.  The Classic, however, is a standalone race, followed by the six stages races of the TDU (20-25 January) at which the riders compete for the ochre winners jersey.

OK, we get it. The "classic" is a showpiece for the folks in Adelaide, an evening criterium that won't count toward the overall stage race later in the week.

But it does feature Lance, and I'm not the only one who noticed. The Versus network this week announced that it's going to broadcast half-hour versions of each day's race, and yes, that includes the Sunday circuit race.

The Versus schedule:

Sun., January 18: 4 pm
Tue., January 20: 4:30 pm
Wed., January 21: 4:30 pm
Thu., January 22: 4:30 pm
Fri., January 23: 4:30 pm
Sat., January 24: 3:30 pm
Sun., January 25: 5 pm

I have two reactions to the schedule: first, it shows the remarkable interest in Lance that a race like the Tour Down Under would be broadcast in America at all. But a shudder also goes down my spine: half-hour highlight shows reminds me of the Tour de France back in the bad old days, when we'd get 20 minutes of yakking and 6 minutes of action for each 4- to 6-hour stage.

Well, it's probably too much to expect Americans to watch hours of cycling each day from Australia in January. Half-hour daily mashups are better than nothing at all.

And one more thing: we checked back today at the Tour Down Under website, and we noticed that the name of that first-day race has now changed.

It's now the "Cancer Council Classic."

The Armstrong Effect is a strong one.


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