Inside a sleek Airstream trailer parked in a driveway in Aspen, Colorado, cameras roll as former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong and commentator JB Hager watch the Tour de France.
As the cyclists spin their way up and down hills, through picturesque villages and over stretches of rough cobblestone in France, Armstrong waves his arms, yells at the monitor and lets fly with the occasional cuss word. It’s all recorded and livestreamed for fans around the world through Armstrong’s WeDu portal.
“I get pretty animated when I watch,” Armstrong said Sunday, while driving from his summer home in Aspen to catch a polo match down the canyon with fiance Anna Hansen and two of their children. “And I do slip up and say bad words from time to time.”
It’s a much grittier approach than you’ll find on network television or commercial radio.
“With broadcasting, a lot of times you have a boss and you have a certain decorum and you’re beholden to certain sponsors or a governing body,” says Hager, who for years co-hosted, along with Sandy McIlree, the morning show on Austin radio station Mix 94.7. “(Armstrong) gives such a raw honest look at it because he’s not beholden to anyone. He can say whatever he wants.”
These days, Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner stripped of his victories in 2012 after a doping scandal, makes no apologies. He knows some people will tune in, and others, still angry over the cheating scandal, will never again listen to a word he says.
It’s all part of life post cycling for Armstrong, who launched “The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong” in June 2016. That program, available for free via YouTube, FaceBook and iTunes, features Armstrong interviewing an intriguing parade of celebrities, from musicians like The Avett Brothers and Bob Schneider to retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., politician Wendy Davis, former Austin police chief Art Acevedo, billionaire businessman John Paul DeJoria, and free diver Tanya Streeter. Talk focuses on everything from current events to politics, family life and the arts, though it rarely touches on cycling.
But some fans still want Armstrong’s perspective on bike racing, so last year, he teamed with Hager to add a separate series of podcasts just during the Tour de France. The pair built on that idea this year, and have once again put “The Forward” podcast on hold while they spend a month producing “The Move,” which includes daily coverage of the 21-stage Tour de France, plus some other special features.
Hager, who’s done his own share of recreational bike racing himself, drove his trailer to Aspen, where Armstrong owns a home, parked it in the neighbor’s driveway, then plugged in a bristling array of audio visual equipment. He tees up questions for Armstrong as they watch, which helps listeners who may not understand the nuances of bike racing.
“He knows enough about cycling to be dangerous, but spent 20 plus years talking to people on the corner of Main Street and First, so if it starts to get technical or wonky he can bring it back to Every Man Jack speak,” Armstrong says.
“The Move” podcast lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, but real Armstrong fans can get more content. A $60 WeDu season pass allows members to observe Hager and Armstrong as they watch the last 20 kilometers of each stage of the Tour live, before they record their podcast.
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“I always said last year I wished people could see him while he’s watching the Tour unfold. Whether it’s a climb or sprint, he jumps out of his skin, he’s losing his mind,” Hager says.
Members can also watch pre-production meetings and participate in special evening “happy hour” sessions, when they can email questions directly to Hager for discussion. They also get a WeDu Tshirt and discounts on merchandise.
“We’re legitimately having cocktails and fielding questions in real time,” Hager says. George Hincapie dropped by for a session last week; NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson is expected this week.
A season pass to WeDu costs $60 and will includes the behind-the-scenes coverage of other cycling races, too. So far, about 1,000 fans from around the world have signed up as members.
As for this year’s Tour, it’s particularly technical, according to Armstrong. Sunday’s stage included 15 sections of rough cobbled roads – the most ever in the Tour de France. Monday is a rest day, and coming days will include some short, explosive mountain stages.
“The first week was very hectic, with a bunch of nervous finishes. The guys are already tired,” says Armstrong, who picked a favorite – 2014 Tour winner Vicenzo Nibali from Italy – early on, but is backpedaling a tad on his choice. “I might regret picking him, but it’s too late.”
“There’s already been quite a shakeup, there’s been a team time trial, and some very technical stages in what almost looks like Austin that are real hilly but don’t have long climbs,” he says. “Now we have the rest day and three days in the Alps, culminating with Alpe d’Huez on Thurday, then some transition days where they basically have to ride across the country to the Pyrenees. It’s hard and hot. The Pyrenees are really the show this year, I think.”
After the tour ends July 29 in Paris, Armstrong and Hager will put together a “best of” podcast featuring edited versions of some of their favorite interviews from “The Forward.”
“We’ll edit the down, put those up, and then launch a new structure for ‘The Forward’ in the fall which will be more based around specific themes like fear or cancer,” Armstrong says.
Does all the Tour watching make him yearn for his racing days?
“Not at all,” he says. “I’m happy to be in Aspen, Colorado.”
Which is where he plans to stay for the summer, before returning to Austin sometime in September.
He’s got another bit of business on his hand, too. A wedding.
Armstrong got engaged to Hansen last May, but they haven’t officially tied the knot yet. Neither one is saying when that will happen, or exactly where, but they are considering both Marfa and Napa Valley.
For more information about WeDu, or to sign up as a member, go to http://www.wedu.team.