The debate among residents and elected officials in Aspen, Colorado about whether the city should host a day commemorating Lance Armstrong, who bought a $9 million second home here last year has become a hot topic.
At a City Council meeting last week, Mayor Mick Ireland, an avid cyclist, proposed drafting a proclamation and hosting an official celebration for Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion, who finished third this year after a three-and-a-half-year retirement.
‘I thought it was a natural thing to do,’ said Ireland, who had no details for a celebration. ‘It seems perfectly appropriate to acknowledge someone who is a part-time resident.’
But two of the other four council members did not see it that way.
One, Steve Skadron, said that honouring someone who ‘has lived here all of five minutes’ was a cheap way of capitalising on Armstrong’s celebrity and that the city should respect his privacy.
Another councilman, Dwayne Romero, said Aspen should focus on supporting local athletes, including those riding in a coming charity ride to raise money for breast cancer research.
The next day, after a front-page article in The Aspen Times, readers offered their own sentiments with a stream of comments on the paper’s web site and in letters that appeared in print.
Armstrong, whose primary home is in Austin, Texas, and who owns a ranch elsewhere in Texas, did not weigh in himself; he is vacationing in the Bahamas.
His only contact with the news media, via his Twitter account, dealt with another controversy: a war of words with the Tour winner, Alberto Contador of Spain, his chief rival and teammate this year.
After Contador revealed his dislike and lack of admiration for Armstrong in a news conference and Armstrong fired back on Twitter, more reports detailing a testy relationship between them have emerged.
El País, a Spanish newspaper, reported that on the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour, Ivan Gutierrez, another Spanish rider, said that he offered Contador his water bottle but that Armstrong picked it off and drank it himself, then turned back to say something to Contador.
El País also reported that Armstrong took the last Astana team car after one Tour stage and left Contador stranded, forcing him to get a ride with his brother.
In Aspen, though, the Contador-Armstrong drama took a back seat to the back-and-forth about the proposed Armstrong celebration – especially after an article in The Aspen Times about the local Chamber Resort Association announcing support of it.
One comment posted on the paper’s web site said in part about Armstrong: ‘His only notable achievement in our community is moving here.’
Another said, ‘Mayor Mick is acting like a 12-year-old who is star struck.’
But a rebuttal comment said: ‘Lance should be honoured, and our community and children can learn from his story – which goes way beyond winning bike races.’
For some of Armstrong’s friends in Aspen, the controversy was humorous, if nothing else.
‘This town specializes in silliness,’ said Charlie Tarver, a long time resident and a friend of Armstrong.
Tarver, who has numerous jerseys signed by Armstrong displayed in his bike shop, the Hub of Aspen, said he thought Armstrong would be open to a local celebration if it was done the right way.
‘For him, the reason he returned to cycling wasn’t for him and it wasn’t for the fame,’ Tarver said. ‘It was for Livestrong and spreading his message of fighting cancer. I’m sure it would be well received if it was about that.’