20 Dec 2016

Lance Armstrong draws a crowd in Auckland

2:49 pm on 20 December 2016

An estimated 1000 cyclists joined the disgraced seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong on a waterfront bike ride in Auckland this morning.

Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs, is in New Zealand for a promotional campaign for Lion Breweries.

Lance Armstrong signs autographs at Mechanics Bay in Auckland.

Lance Armstrong said it was "humbling" to ride with the crowd. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

Professional cyclists, families, school competitors and cycling commuters joined the 45-year-old Texan for a 24km ride from Mechanics Bay to St Heliers and back.

He said he could not make up for what he had done but he was happy to be riding in Auckland.

"It is what it is, I can't make it right or go away," he said. "I get that there are a lot of hurt feelings and really the word is betrayal I mean you guys are betrayed, a lot of fans, the sport and sponsors were betrayed. I'm 45 years old, I'll be talking about it when I'm 90."

He said he did not know how many people to expect as it was a long time since he had gone a similar ride with fans and cycling enthusiasts.

"It's humbling and it's great to be here. I used to do these all the time, a lot of people would show up but it's been years since I did it. It's cool, it's an honour."

He spoke about the doping scandal, which rocked the world of cycling.

"We all sort of know the story now. I mean for me the most important things are I walk through my day and try to raise five kids and stay fit myself.

"If people think I'm curled up in a foetal position they're wrong, I mean that wouldn't help anybody, it wouldn't help my family. So I still get out, travel the world and we're in a good place."

He said he was leaving New Zealand tomorrow.

Lance Armstrong (in white) returns from a waterfront bike ride in Auckland.

An estimated 1000 people gathered to ride with Armstrong. Photo: RNZ / Kate Newton

Many fans gathered at Mechanics Bay this morning said that while they did not condone what he had done he was still an inspiring athlete.

Sean Cox said: "I've been a long-time fan since the 1990s so it's a good opportunity. He was going to come down in 2009 or 2011 to Rotorua but he pulled out at the last minute so it was a little disappointing.

"I was a really big fan of the Tour over those years. He's such an incredible athlete and when you watch those Tours end to end and when you see how difficult they are and how difficult the courses are and the fact he's competing against people that are equally as bad, I can't hold it against the guy."

Craig Turner said: "I went to see the Tour this year so I've just got a lot of respect for what they can do, considering they're a hell of a lot faster than I am.

"It's more of an event today. So I'd like to ride with a bunch of riders because it's always a lot more fun when there's more people, so it's a nice opportunity.

"I think he's gone on a bit of a journey, now I won't say I like all of that journey but you've still got to respect the guy for what he's been able to achieve."

Christophe Kerby, 15, has been competing in cycling at Auckland Grammar School and was confident about being able to keep up with the 45-year-old.

"I saw some photos of him looking a bit older. He's pretty famous in cycling. It's cool to meet someone like him. What he did wasn't very good, the cheating and stuff but he donates quite a lot to charity."

Drug Free Sport criticises appearance

New Zealand pro cyclist George Bennett said he hoped Armstrong enjoyed his time in New Zealand.

Mr Bennett said he didn't condone drugs cheats, but felt Armstrong should be allowed to try and right his wrongs.

"He's the reason I started riding a bike, he's done a lot for the sport of cycling ... he's also done things I'm sure he really regrets, and treated people regrettably, but he's also doing a lot on the path to redemption as well."

Mr Bennett said Armstrong probably had a long way to go on his road to redemption.

Drug Free Sport chief executive Graeme Steel said there were more admirable sportspeople to show how sport should be played.

He said Armstrong had done whatever he could to destroy the careers of those who opposed him, or tried to reveal the truth.

Lion Breweries issued a statement saying "that things are not always as they appear, as will be revealed in due course".

It said: "We are using Lance to tell a cautionary tale called 'The Consequence' which depicts how much you stand to lose when you pursue success at all costs.

"We wanted to highlight that actions have consequences and we couldn't think of anyone better to demonstrate that."