Lance Armstrong probably doesn't feel like a grand prize this week. But he is.
Among the companies taking spokesmodel gigs away from Armstrong on Wednesday was Anheuser-Busch, whose vice-president of U.S. marketing, Paul Chibe, announced that the company had "decided not to renew" its sponsorship contract with the alleged P.E.D.-ophile. That doesn't mean Armstrong is quite done with the beer giant, though. His contract runs through the end of the year, and he still has one last ride.
This was supposed to be a big week of a different sort for Armstrong and Anheuser-Busch, which used him to peddle its Michelob Ultra line. In August, the company unveiled a sweepstakes called "Ultra Adventure," in two-page spreads in Sports Illustrated and Runner's World. Entrants had the chance to win a $19,000 package highlighted by a trip to Kona, Hawaii, to "hike, kayak and even take a ride with Lance Armstrong." The grand-prize meet-and-greet would go down at some point between Oct. 13 and Oct. 18.
The ad campaign used a catchphrase that now seems, depending on what the copy writers knew and when they knew it, either unfortunate or taunting: "ULTRA INVITES YOU TO CATCH LANCE... IF YOU CAN."
Travis Tygart had taken on, and by most accounts met, that challenge while the Michelob contest was just getting started: Tygart's crusading US Anti-Doping Agency caught Lance and banned him for life from most high-level competitions while the magazine ads were still on newsstands.
Michelob likely chose its Hawaii dates to go with the Ironman Triathlon, which was held in Kona this past weekend. Armstrong was scheduled to compete in that pre-eminent endurance event, but organizers honored the USADA ban and revoked his entry.
The fine print of the Ultra Adventure rule book says that the "Ride with Lance Armstrong is subject to availability."
A spokesman for Anheuser-Busch says that, despite the Ironman ban, and no matter what else is going on in his life, and regardless of the fact that the company made a big show of dropping him, Armstrong is scheduled to be in Hawaii this weekend to honor his contest obligations. He said the prized ride between the contest winner and the grounded-and-pounded seven-time Tour de France ex-champion "will take place" on Oct. 20, a couple days later than originally planned.
"Not as fun an end as it was supposed to be, is it?" says the spokesman, who requested anonymity.*
Citing legal concerns, the spokesman declined to release the name of the sweepstakes winner.
Perhaps Armstrong's disassociation with the booze company will be good for him. Though not mentioned in the USADA report, through the years there have been accusations that Armstrong has abused beer, also. His defenders would want it pointed out, however, that he's never failed a breathalyzer test.
* Note: The quote above came after a conversational mixup with the spokesman about the event being in Ohio, rather than Hawaii. He was joking about Ohio being less fun as a destination, and I misunderstood the context.
Dave McKenna is a writer in Washington D.C.