(CNN)It has been described as the guilty pleasure of this year’s Tour de France, arguably the race’s greatest villain waxing lyrical about the race he once dominated for so long.
Lance Armstrong is back in cycling, in a way. Still an outcast to the race, instead he has set up a daily podcast recorded from a small office at the end of the garden of his Austin home, and at occasional other venues nearby.
The 45-year-old is as knowledgeable as you’d expect for a veteran of 13 Tours. Topics have ranged widely from criticizing race organizers for ending the Tour’s Queen stage on a treacherous descent to having a hangover as a result of too much ros wine during his July 4 celebrations.
Fresh off the airwaves of his latest podcast, known as “Stages,” Armstrong tells CNN: “I had two platforms before [his public mea culpa to doping four years ago]: cycling and cancer.
“I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but they went overnight, not just the cycling but the cancer. A man with no platform is a lost man.”
This is not Armstrong’s first podcast. For the past few months, he has had one called “The Forward” [disassociating himself from the past] in which guests have ranged from the author Malcolm Gladwell to the former NFL quarterback Brett Favre.
But while that has been well received, Armstrong has been blown away both by the listening numbers and the positive feedback of his latest venture over the airwaves, in which he shares the stage with radio host JB Hager.
At the time of speaking to CNN, he was averaging 300,000 listeners a day — double that of “The Forward” — with the numbers rising. Much to the chagrin of the Tour organizers no doubt, it has been something of a hit of the race.
‘Not concerned by negativity’
Surely with his past doping indiscretions on the bike there has been some negative feedback?
“The team deal with the emails and I’m sure there are plenty of emails that tell me to ‘go f*** yourself’,” he says.
“But I’m not overly concerned by the negativity. If someone wants to fire off and make a personal attack, it doesn’t affect me. If it’s a comment on the accuracy of the show then I’d try to fix that.
“The feedback on Facebook Live, Twitter and Instagram’s been good.”
“Stages” is just part of Armstrong’s return to cycling. In the months leading up to it, he was getting back on his bike more and more for general fitness, as well as paying closer attention to the professional peloton.
Armstrong lists off some of the comments he has received. “I had one saying ‘I didn’t want to listen but I did and it’s good’,” or you have people saying ‘I shouldn’t like it’. One guy called it ‘his guilty pleasure’.”
But the seven-time Tour winner, whose race victories have since been erased from the annals for his doping past, knows his cycling return will not be received well by everyone.
“It’s the first time in years that I’ve got something to give me a platform,” he said. “People can choose not to listen but I’m my own boss with this and nobody tells me what to do.”
The question is what next — platform wise — for Armstrong? He has had some talks with parties about his future.
But taking his podcast to France next year is not on the agenda. For one, he knows in all certainty he would be blacklisted.
“Hey, it’s never say never isn’t it?” he says. “But I have very little interest in doing that. I can watch the Tour in my house and then walk across to my studio.
“God bless those on the Tour having to drive three hours every day between the stages. That’s miserable — you need a vacation at the end of it. This works perfectly for me right now.”
But of the wider question of his future, Armstrong has no idea what lies ahead, with a $100 million lawsuit looming from the US government for fraud for doping while racing in the US Postal Service colors.
“There’s one thing left that you all know about, that’s a significant fight so to speak,” he says of a case which begins on November 6. “That’s looming and I’ve got no choice but to fight the case. For now, I have to get on with my life.”
In the meantime, Armstrong will continue with his podcast for which he will be joined by former teammate George Hincapie in the final week.
He may crop up yet again as he has done in the television mockumentary Pharmacy Road on HBO, telling the story of a 1982 drug-fuelled Tour de France, with Armstrong in a scene-stealing moment.
“I watched it with my son the other night and I thought it was funny,” he says. “It’s nicely over the top. It was fun to do, like ‘Stages.'”
Have your say
From the peloton to the podcast, Armstrong continues to prove a divisive figure.
Asked if the 45-year-old still deserves a platform in the sport, here’s what social media users around the world had to say.
“Lance brought a lot of good to the world of cycling and cancer,” said Katrina Kraus. “Let the world forgive, let him return to cycling and let LiveStrong have their hero back.”
Vanessa Baumann asked why the public is ready to forgive the actions of some athletes and not others, adding: “That inspiration and the will to be strong and live that he has given me can never be taken away.”
Others contended his doping merely “leveled the playing field” in an era when cheating was rife.
But, six years on from his retirement, not everyone was ready to forgive the fallen star.
Nancy Pope conceded it was Armstrong that initially got her interested in the sport, but stressed “What he does with himself couldn’t matter less to me.”
“He has to live with it,” posted Tom Cole, saying the cyclist’s downfall was “his own doing.”
“Maybe all his sins can’t be forgiven, but one should also remember his contributions,” said Bernd Ingram.
Do you think Lance Armstrong still deserves a platform in cycling? Have your say on CNN Sport’s Facebook page