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Sports stars and former boss back Armstrong

Lance Armstrong, who is poised to be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after relinquishing his fight against drug charges, has received backing from his former team boss Johan Bruyneel.

"Today I am disappointed for Lance and for cycling in general, that things have reached such a point that Lance has had enough and no longer wants to challenge the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) campaign against him," said Bruyneel.

"Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been," he said on his website

Bruyneel was speaking hours after his friend, winner of the Tour between 1999 and 2005, dropped his challenge against the long-running campaign to prove he had used drugs while at the same time reaffirming his innocence.

The USADA has accused Bruyneel of involvement in systematic doping in his former role as sporting director of US Postal and Discovery Channel for whom
Armstrong rode when winning his seven Tour titles.

"I hope that it will soon be determined that the case that USADA initiated against me should never have gotten as far as it has," the Belgian former Tour de France stage winner added.

"Due to the sensitive nature of legal proceedings, I have been advised that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage."

In contrast, five-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault was unsympathetic to Armstrong's plight.

"I couldn't give a damn," the French cycling icon who won the Tour in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985, told ouest-france.fr. "It's his problem, not mine. This is a problem that should have been sorted out 10 or 15 years ago but which never was."

The dramatic developments late Thursday also triggered reaction from sports stars outside cycling.

Jenson Button, Formula One champion in 2009 for McLaren, wrote on Twitter: "Guilty or not the worst part is it hurts the sport of cycling."

That sentiment was echoed by Mike Tindall, the former England rugby captain and 2003 World Cup winner.

He tweeted: "The biggest loser in the Lance Armstrong affair is the sport of cycling to try and change results over the 15 years seems ridiculous".

Another England rugby international, Danny Capriani, paid tribute to Armstrong's charity work.

"Lance Armstrong could be guilty or not… The charity work he has done is amazing. Raising over $500million for cancer. Serious witch hunt!" he wrote.

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SPORT

Inaugural Women’s Tour de France to start at Eiffel Tower

The route for the inaugural women's Tour de France was unveiled on Thursday with eight stages, embarking from the Eiffel Tower on July 24th next year.

French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race.
French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race. Photo: Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP.

The first complete edition of the women’s version of cycling’s iconic race starts on the day the 109th edition of the men’s Tour ends.

After a route that winds through northern France, the race culminates in the Planche des Belles Filles climb in the Vosges mountains.

Danish cyclist Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig said she was over the moon to be taking part.

“I want it to be July now so we can get stared,” she said actually jumping up and down.

“The Tour de France is a reference and when you say you are a cyclist people ask about that. Now I can say I race the Tour de France,” she said after the presentation.

MAP: Details of 2022 Tour de France (and Denmark) revealed

Race director Marion Rousse, a former French cycling champion and now a TV commentator, told AFP it would be a varied course that would maintain suspense over the eight days.

“It is coherent in a sporting sense, and we wanted to start from Paris,” she said of the 1,029km run.

“With only eight stages we couldn’t go down to the Alps or the Pyrenees, the transfers would be too long.

“The stages obviously are shorter for the women than for the men’s races. The men can go 225 kilometres. For the women the longest race on our roster is 175km and we even needed special dispensation for that,” she said. “But it’s a course I love.”

Christian Prudhomme, the president of the Tour de France organisers, was equally enthusiastic.

“The fact it sets off from Paris the day the men’s race ends gives the new race a boost because it sets the media up to follow it more easily.

“It also means that with the Tour de France starting on July 1st and the women’s race ending on the 31st, there will be cycling on television every day of July.”

The men’s race is broadcast in around 190 countries.

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