Before yawning his way through a seventh straight Tour de France victory, Lance Armstrong announced that his mission was not only to win, but also to "win the hearts of the French fans." Earning the admiration of the French can be tough for any foreigner, but it was an especially difficult task for Armstrong, who has come to represent in the minds of the French something quintessentially American -- a cyclist who approaches the sport almost as if it were a business. While most European riders compete throughout the year, Armstrong only trains for the Tour, the race with the highest payoff. As a result, he and his teammates are able to cover nearly every inch of the course ahead of time. Their meticulous preparation irritates many Europeans, who say that even if Lance isn't on steroids he's at the least not much fun to watch.
In a sense, they're right. Armstrong's utter dominance hasn't been entirely due to his athletic prowess, as this New York Times article makes clear (skip to the second page). Indeed, he has made business decisions that have put him not only in a position to pull in $20 million in endorsements a year, but also to be better prepared for the Tour than anyone else. Armstrong, who is part owner of his team, has sought out sponsors that do business primarily in North America, the U.S. Postal Service and the Discovery Channel. Whereas other sponsors like T-Mobile ask their riders to compete in several events a year for maximum exposure, the Discovery Channel could care less about who wins the Vuelta a EspaÃ±a or the Giro d'Italia. Add to that, Armstrong's entrepreneurial savvy in helping to sell millions of Livestrong bracelets for Nike, and you have maybe the greatest athlete-entrepreneur of all time. If it's not him, then I'd like to know who?