Originally created 06/26/04

Outdoor Life expands cycle race coverage



With the ratings of so many sports on television either flat or declining, it's a challenge to locate untapped events and reach out to new fans.

Folks at the Outdoor Life Network believe they have one of those rare gems in cycling's top prize - the Tour de France, which gets under way July 3. With American Lance Armstrong aiming for an unprecedented sixth consecutive tour title, OLN is ready to hitch a ride with expanded coverage of the race.

Cycling enthusiasts and casual fans will pretty much get wall-to-wall Lance, with many other competitors mixed in, during OLN's nearly 350 hours of live coverage over the tour's 22 days.

"We've all jumped on Lance's train," said Gavin Harvey, the president of OLN, the cable channel that reaches nearly 58 million homes. "A lot of what we're doing goes back to him. And he deserves the credit. Look what he's done - beating cancer, surviving the hardships of the race and winning five consecutive races. He's certainly earned his place in history ... If Lance is successful, this will be without a doubt one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time."

When it comes to what makes good television, Mr. Armstrong comes right out of central casting. The muscular Texan has it all - good looks, an inspirational story and a record of success.

And now, just to make the story even juicier, he has a touch of controversy with the publication of a book by former assistant Emma O'Reilly, who claims Mr. Armstrong told her to dispose of used syringes and to give him makeup to hide needle marks on his arm. Mr. Armstrong denies Ms. O'Reilly's claims and says he has never used performance-enhancing drugs.

Controversies aside, Mr. Harvey says the tour is full of stories crying to be told.

"We'd love to get the tour higher on people's radar screens. It's such a demanding sport and these athletes are just phenomenal," Mr. Harvey said.