Professional cycling could use a bailout. It lacks a centralorganizing body, like the National Football League or NationalBasketball Association. Individual races compete for sponsorsand don't have bargaining power in deals for broadcast rights;they don't centrally negotiate. Union Cycliste Internationale, orUCI, in Aigle, Switzerland, is the governing body for the sport but it doesn't control any races.UCI and Amaury Sport Organisation, the arm of French mediaconglomerate Éditions Philippe Amaury which organizes theTour, say they have feuded for years over issues fromsponsorship to race calendars. The intensely private Frenchcompany has been run by Marie Odile Amaury since the deathof her husband, Philippe, in 2006. Cycling's lowest point came when the 2006 Tour winner was dethroned for failing a drug test after the race.Mr. Armstrong "has the clout as an athlete and a champion and he has the right ability to steer a model and steera business and the right people that can help him do that," Mr. Stapleton says.Mr. Armstrong, in a well-known comeback tale, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, just as his career was taking off. After recovering, he won the 1999 Tour de France and proceeded to win it six more times in a row, becoming the world's highest-paid cyclist and helping usher in a new era of sponsorship money and mediaattention for the sport. He eventually commanded an annual salary in the $3.5 million to $4 million range, whilesome of his teammates made as little as $15,000 a year. Mr. Armstrong has faced a number of dopingaccusations during his career, which he has denied. He has never been sanctioned. He retired in 2005, after winning his seventh Tour de France.In fall 2006, at a Manhattan bar, Mr. Armstrong, his agent Mr. Stapleton, and hedge-fund manager David"Tiger" Williams, along with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, discussed how cycling could benefit from central ownership.Mr. Armstrong said no new organization could succeed unless it controlled the Tour de France, say Mr. Stapletonand others familiar with the discussion. Afterward, Mr. Armstrong rounded up a number of wealthy cycling enthusiasts willing to help fund a potentialacquisition of the Tour de France, say Messrs. Stapleton and Weisel. It would have cost about $1.5 billion at thetime to buy the Tour, people familiar with the matter say.Others were also looking. In July 2007, Messrs. Armstrong and Stapleton entertained another prospective planto reorganize cycling from Wouter Vandenhaute, a Belgian television executive and former sportscaster, who hasa plan he calls the "World Tour." At the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, Mr. Vandenhaute proposed a series of races with the Tour de France as the de facto Super Bowl of the season.Mr. Vandenhaute was talking with Luxembourg-based private-equity firm CVC Capital Partners. CVC remainsinterested in a deal, though any deal is probably a long way off, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr.Stapleton says the idea could still pick up steam.The global economic crisis has quelled deal making. Meanwhile, in cycling, the two main bodies -- Tour deFrance owner Amaury and UCI -- say their long-time feuding is abating. Pat McQuaid, president of UCI, says thesport is in a "healing phase.""We want peace," said Tour de France general director Christian Prudhomme in a November interview.That said, even with a truce, Mr. Stapleton and Mr. Armstrong believe the sport's fundamental problems -- thelack of a strong central organization -- aren't fixed, making a deal attractive. "Until there is an economicincentive that's based on television rights and unified ownership," Mr. Stapleton said, "the issue won't be solved."
Lance Armstrong rides in a California velodrome in2008.
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Lance Armstrong Ponders Buying the Tour de France in Bid to Run Pro Cy...http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123811112300753043.html#printMode2 of 311/07/2010 02:15