Despite investigation, Armstrong stays in public eye

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AUSTIN, Texas | Lance Armstrong just keeps rolling along.

While prosecutors examine his past as part of a federal investigation into drug use in pro cycling, Armstrong is sticking to a relentless public schedule of charity bike rides, speeches, endorsements and meetings with policy groups.

He’s doing anything but hiding.

And that, public relations experts say, is the way to stay popular — or at least, limit the damage to his reputation — even as prosecutors present evidence to a grand jury.

“It’s all the right moves. Other athletes could learn from him” said Gene Grabowski, who guides high-profile figures through public relations crises as a senior vice president with Washington-based Levick Strategic Communications.

Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times after fighting back from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. Since returning from this year’s race, which he says will be his last, he has kept his fight against the disease at the forefront of his public appearances.

Armstrong was in San Francisco on Monday and visited a hospital with Mayor Gavin Newsome. When a federal grand jury considering the investigation meets in Los Angeles on Wednesday, he’ll be in New York City for the Clinton Global Initiative where he’s headlining a panel on cancer in the developing world. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to be at the Clinton event later in the week.

Meanwhile, Armstrong is constantly updating his 2.65 million followers on Twitter with his musings on life, racing and music.

“We call it ‘brazening it out.’ You act as if there’s nothing wrong,” said George Merlis, founder of Experience Media Consulting Group. “All of these are laudable if he’s doing it for the right reason, such as fighting cancer.”

Armstrong insists there is, indeed, nothing wrong. He has always denied doping allegations that have dogged him for years. Spokesman Mark Fabiani said there’s no reason for him to back off now.

“This tax-money-wasting fishing expedition — which continues to drag up nothing but old news — was started on the word of the disgraced Floyd Landis, so there is no reason why it would distract Lance Armstrong from the vigorous work he has always done on behalf of his foundation, his sport, and his wide range of business partners,” Fabiani said.

In fact, Armstrong’s highly public schedule is nothing new.

When he first retired from cycling in 2005, he made regular appearances around the country for charity and cancer-awareness programs.

He also entered the political world. In 2007, Armstrong successfully lobbied state lawmakers to pass a $3 billion cancer research initiative. He also co-hosted televised cancer forums with several candidates for president.

Today, Armstrong still has a dedicated following, the so-called Livestrong Army enchanted by his work fighting cancer and his success on the bike. Just this weekend, a 6-year-old boy in Corpus Christi made local news by raising $150 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation selling lemonade.

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