WTC’s leader discusses partnership with Armstrong

World Triathlon Chief Executive Officer Andrew Messick just made a considerable bet that the WTC’s partnership with Lance Armstrong will be a win-win situation for the 7-timeTour de France champion’s efforts to help those suffering from cancer as well as the WTC’s efforts to promote its Ironman races. In a telephone interview this afternoon, Messick specifies just how much the WTC will put in the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s coffers as well as just how serious Lance is about competing as a professional after his 40th birthday.

Slowtwitch: What will this partnership mean to the sport of triathlon and Ironman in particular?

Andrew Messick: I hope it will be fantastic for sport of triathlon and will provide a level of media exposure it has not had in a long time -- if ever. I believe it will have an ability to cast a much brighter spotlight on our sport -- certainly the races in which Lance will compete.

ST: What will this partnership mean to the fight against cancer.

Andrew: We are committed to raise at least a million dollars for the Lance Foundation. We will be contributing money directly to the foundation as well contributing four Kona slots each in 2012 and 2013 which will be auctioned off to benefit the Livestrong Foundation. And we will be doing other fund raising activities together

ST: How much will that direct contribution from the WTC be?

Andrew: We will write a check to the Lance Armstrong Foundation for less than a million but more than $500,000.

ST: What other ways of fund raising within this partnership will there be?

Andrew: The Lance Armstrong Foundation has a whole tiered fundraising structure through Team LIVESTRONG. Depending on how much people want to raise, the foundation offers different levels of benefits. So beyond the minimum contribution required [$600 for each of 250 slots allotted to Lance Armstrong Foundation for the three Ironman 70.3 races and $1,400 for each of the 250 slots allocated to the Foundation at Ironman France], the 2012 Ironman fundraising by Team LIVESTRONG could average north of $1,000 per athlete.

ST: Why do you suppose Lance chose Ironman to devote his talents and hunger for endurance challenges?

Andrew: To answer that, it’s a good idea to go all the way back to the beginning. Lance was a triathlete first. He was phenomenally gifted and raced against Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Scott Molina and all the top guys as a teenager and high school student in Plano, Texas. Ultimately he chose cycling and no one can question that decision. But all along, triathlon always had a place in his heart and Kona was always on his list for him to come back and find a way to race there. So, trying to qualify for Kona after being away and to bring attention and money to his cause makes sense.

ST: With a reduced pro field and so many strong competitors trying to qualify for Kona, it might be hard to make the field. Will you offer him a slot if he doesn’t make the points?

Andrew: Right now he is going to try to qualify on points, and if he does well in the races he has signed up for, he will make it. If he needs more points, he is ready to do more races. If for some reason he falls short? We will see.

ST: Were you waiting for the Federal prosecutors to abandon their case against Lance before making this announcement? Did the disposition of that case have any bearing on the timing of this agreement?

Andrew: No -- and none whatsoever. We have been negotiating this for months and months. The timing of the close of the Federal investigation had no impact. Certainly we had no insight about that. We were waiting until after the Super Bowl to make sure Lance could find time to announce it.

ST: What appearances will Lance Armstrong make in cooperation with WTC to promote and further the raising of money to fight cancer?

Andrew: He will do some appearances. We are working with him and his schedule. Likely we will have him play a role with the new US Championship Ironman race in New York City in August. But it is important to recognize that Lance is taking this very seriously and he wants to compete as a professional athlete and manages his time accordingly. So he won’t have much time to devote to things other than focus on family, his main cancer mission and getting ready to race.

ST: Who came to the table for this partnership first - WTC or Lance?

Andrew: I have known Lance for years and worked with him as he raced the Amgen Tour of California, which he ran in 2009 with Astana and in 2010 with Radio Shack. I have known his people a long time. It’s fair to say that all of us were and always have been intrigued by the possibility of him returning to triathlon. And of course in triathlon, all roads lead to Kona.

ST: What have you heard from every day age groupers about this agreement?

Andrew: I have received dozens and dozens of message on Twitter and emails from age groupers which have been extremely positive about what this means for the sport. And they love the idea to have a chance to race and compare their times in these events to Lance. There are not many sports where this is possible.