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October 23, 2012
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Aspen Art Museum stands by Lance Armstrong

ASPEN - Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek and other major corporate sponsors have dropped Lance Armstrong in the wake of the doping scandal, but one local organization is standing by the embattled cyclist: The Aspen Art Museum said Monday it will keep the part-time resident on its board of directors.

"Lance Armstrong is an active member of the Aspen Art Museum board of trustees since 2011. He is, has been and will continue to be an excellent board member and good citizen in our community," said Aspen Art Museum Director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson in a written response to a question from The Aspen Times.

Armstrong has participated in a medley of Aspen Art Museum events since he took a seat on its board. On Aug. 3, he attended its Art Crush Fundraiser, which raised $1.8 million, according to published reports.

On Monday, the International Cycling Union, or UCI, stripped the Texan of his seven Tour de France titles, officially crippling his once-impeccable reputation as a cancer survivor who overcame staggering odds by winning - drug free - the world's most renowned and challenging road-bike race.

Aspen businessman Rick Schultz has been both an Armstrong follower and fan, traveling to France to watch him compete. His take on the situation is that it's really no surprise but disappointing nonetheless.

"My general thought on it is I don't want to see the guy nailed to the wall," he said. "What pains me about it, though, is some kid who wanted to make it in professional cycling couldn't because of the doping.

"I think it's good that it's all been exposed, and I'm not happy. But it doesn't taint my memories of going to the Tour and following Lance, but it does pain me. But I'm also a realist. It's not going to keep me from watching cycling."

Schultz is plugged into the sporting world and runs the Autograph Source in downtown Aspen, where he sells signatures of world-famous athletes, celebrities and historical figures. He noted that Major League Baseball has endured a drug scandal of its own and still remains popular. He said Aspen and the rest of the state should stay true to Colorado's USA Pro Challenge, which enters its third year next summer.

"We have a pro cycling race that comes through Aspen, and I'd like us to keep it," he said. "I wouldn't like to see anything knee-jerk by canceling it."

Aspen's affinity for cycling isn't hard to detect. Even in the front office of The Aspen Times, a framed photo hangs on the wall depicting a front page of the newspaper on which is an autographed picture of George Hincapie raising his arms in triumph as he crosses the Aspen finish line of the Queen Stage in last year's Pro Challenge. Once a close friend of Armstrong's, Hincapie - who was with him during his seven Tour wins - is one of 11 cyclists who testified to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about Armstrong's use of banned substances.

As for Schultz's business, he said he has magazines and posters bearing Armstrong's signature with price tags of $500 and of $1,200 to $1,500, respectively. Given the scandal, however, Schultz said he plans to hack 40 percent off those prices.

He noted that after USADA announced it was nixing Armstrong's seven tour titles, sales saw a slight spike.

"I actually sold three or four of his pieces," Schultz said. "I was surprised."

But it was nothing like in 2005, when Armstrong's popularity was at its crest.

"Back then, the phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to buy Armstrong stuff," he said.

Before Monday's announcement from UCI, rumors and speculation about Armstrong's drug use had been rampant, but many of his followers remained faithful, while Armstrong insisted he rode clean.

Armstrong built a home in Aspen a couple of years ago and instantly became a local hero. It's been a place where he has trained, socialized and made new friends.

Mayor Mick Ireland, an avid cyclist, once pitched a Lance Armstrong Day for Aspen, but it never took off. Armstrong also attracted VIP status at a few Aspen restaurants and has drawn adoring crowds at local bike and foot races, even when the allegations against him intensified with merit.

In a July 28, 2011, appearance at Greenwald Pavilion - just a few blocks away from Armstrong's home - where he was interviewed by Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, the cyclist defended his achievements, saying he took "hundreds and hundreds of tests, around the world, in and out of competition, urine, blood, hair, all of the things they use to test. I'm going to let that stand and speak for itself."

Some 13 months later, on Aug. 25, two days after USADA handed down a lifetime professional cycling ban and stripped him of seven Tour de France titles - without UCI's blessing at the time - Armstrong competed in the Power of Four mountain-biking race from Snowmass to Aspen. At the base of Aspen Mountain, after Armstrong's second-place finish to 16-year-old Aspen High student Keegan Swirbul, he told a throng of reporters that he was at peace with the ordeal.

"I'm more at ease now than I have been in 10 years," he said. "I don't have anything to worry about. I'm focused on the future."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Oct 23, 2012 08:17AM Published Oct 23, 2012 01:48AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.