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Lance Armstrong Continues Virtual Strava Races as Some Seek Ban

Lance Armstrong Continues Virtual Strava Races as Some Seek Ban
Cyclist Lance Armstrong addresses participants at The LIVESTRONG Challenge Ride in Austin. Photographer: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong can continue to compete against other cyclists, as long as it’s only on the Internet.

Michael Horvath, chief executive officer of the cycling website Strava, said he has no plans to ban Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping, from posting rides.

Armstrong said last month he had cheated by using drugs through most of his cycling career. Some other Strava users have called for his banishment from the site.

“We want to be careful not to become a police state,” Horvath said in a telephone interview. “We are not going to say who can use Strava and who can’t.”

In three years, San Francisco-based Strava Inc. has become a popular online social network for endurance athletes, especially for cyclists looking to compete without actually racing against each other in an organized event. Armstrong, 41, has used the site since 2011 and holds more than 150 “King of the Mountain” titles -- known as KOMs -- or running “course records” on Strava.

Using a variety of GPS-based training applications, Strava users can create online “courses” by marking start and finish points. The fastest riders to complete the various routes are listed on leaderboards for each segment.

On the site, Strava lists five things its users, or the “community,” stand for. Among them, Strava says, users “earn our spots on the leaderboards through clean competition.”

That’s where the issue comes in with Armstrong, Strava user Jacob Berkman says.

‘Ban Him’

“Strava owes it to its community of clean athletes to adopt a general policy for doping violators, and in the meantime, strip Lance of his ill-deserved KOMs, and ban him from its service.” Berkman wrote in an October 2012 blog entry. That month, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a 200-page report with 1,000 pages of supporting evidence on Armstrong’s drug use.

“He just doesn’t deserve to be recognized as an athlete,” Berkman said in a telephone interview.

Armstrong had 10,156 followers on Strava as of yesterday. He doesn’t follow anybody on his own.

Mark Fabiani, one of Armstrong’s attorneys, said the cyclist declined to comment on the Strava issue.

Horvath said the company has no plans to adopt a policy against cyclists who have been banned for doping or other offenses.

‘Polarizing’ Issue

“As far as we know, Lance isn’t doing anything to violate our terms of use,” he said. “It’s polarizing for sure, but this is not what Strava is about. If they feel any user is abusing the system, the community can voice what they think about it instead of us doing it. That’s how we prefer it.”

On Strava, Armstrong defends his Tour de France victories in his profile description.

“According to my rivals, peers, and teammates I won the Tour de France seven times,” is how he describes himself.

Chris Phipps, a 43-year-old San Francisco property manager and amateur cyclist, is another user who would prefer not to have Armstrong or other suspended riders in the Strava community.

“I really don’t think guys who are serving doping suspensions should be on Strava either,” Phipps said in a telephone interview. “They’re known cheaters. You assume everybody on Strava is being honest. If they’re serving a suspension, they need to go away and have a low profile.”

Armstrong Support

Not everybody is in favor of banishing Armstrong.

Penn Henderson, a 40-year-old sales and marketing director for a Keauhou Bay, Hawaii-based ocean cruise company, is one of the few Strava users whose name is listed above Armstrong’s on the site. Over a six-week period last year, Henderson swapped KOM titles with Armstrong, who often trains in Hawaii.

After Armstrong posted the fastest time on a 4.3-mile climb in Captain Cook, Hawaii, with an average speed of 14 miles per hour, Henderson topped Armstrong by 21 seconds with an average speed of 14.3 MPH.

“We’ve never met,” Henderson said in a telephone interview. “I would just see him riding past me in the other direction. It’s not like he’s making money from his Strava KOMs. Personally, I’d be bummed if Strava kicked him off. Where does that stop?”

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