This week it was reported that federal agents are investigating Lance Armstrong for possible obstruction, witness tampering, and intimidation. Also this week, Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal published an article about the next chapter in Armstrong’s career as a competitive athlete. He joined Bill Littlefield to talk about Armstrong and the social networking site Strava.
BL: Explain to us the nature of that competition known as Strava?
KH: It’s a website and an app that has GPS attached to it and allows cyclist anywhere to turn the app on and to establish a course. And then once that’s uploaded, other users of Strava can compete with the creator of that course for time on it. And in the three years that Strava’s been around, millions of courses have been created. So if you are the fastest person on a particular course, Strava crowns you KOM — King of the Mountain — a term that it borrowed from the Tour de France. And Lance, when I wrote my story, had, well he had about 80 KOMs, and almost equal number of CRs, which is Course Records. You can also compete as a runner using Strava.
BL: You’ve visited Lance Armstrong’s Strava page. Describe it for us.
KH: About a week before the interview with Oprah aired, he added a one-line bio – Strava’s like a social network; you have your own page, so Lance has his page — and his bio says, “According to my rivals, peers, and teammates, I won the Tour de France seven times.” Now since my story ran earlier this week, he has removed all information about his rides so that it now says Lance Armstrong has no KOMs.
BL: Strava, as you pointed out, has existed for only three years, but has more than a million users. How many of those users are even roughly in the same competitive level as Lance Armstrong?
KH: I would guess very few. When you own a KOM and you are dethroned, you receive an email from Strava saying, “Uh oh, Joe Smith has ridden the segment you created 30 seconds faster than you.” I was not able to get comment from him for the story, but I would love to know whether Lance had ever received an “uh oh” note. There are people who are very, very serious cyclers and 20 years younger than Lance usually.
BL: Have you been able to get a sense of whether the recreational athletes involved in Strava enjoy competing against Armstrong, or is he crashing the King of the Mountain party?
KH: I spoke with a young woman in Aspen, where Lance lives part of the time, and she was the QOM—Queen of the Mountain—on a segment that Lance reigned as KOM. And she was very excited about that. Now she herself is like a super great skier but she said, “You know, I only started cycling two years ago, and now I’m – at least, on paper – on the same level as Lance.”
BL: It seems to me, based on what Armstrong has put on his Strava page, that he might have something to lose, because it doesn’t sound like he’s the same guy who confessed to Oprah on national television.
KH: “According to my rivals, peers, and teammates I won the Tour de France seven times” does not seem to strike the same sort of contrite tone that he did there, so maybe this is the one environment that remains hospitable to him.