For the first time since he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong on Thursday rode a stage of the famous race for charity.
Published: 16 July 2015 08:45 CEST Updated: 16 July 2015 11:58 CEST
Lance Armstrong can expect a frosty reception when he cycles the Tour de France route on Thursday. Photo: AFP
Armstrong was riding a 198-kilometre (123-mile) stage of the race a day ahead of the competing riders for a leukaemia charity but cycling officials have branded the exercise “disrespectful”.
The 43-year-old American, who himself is a cancer survivor, stressed he was riding for a “great cause” and it was something he was committed to “regardless of what people think”.
The charity, the brainchild of former England football international Geoff Thomas who beat leukaemia, aims to raise “around £1 million” (1.4 million euros, $1.5million) mainly via sponsorship garnered by the 10 other amateur cyclists riding the route.
Armstrong was surrounded by reporters but no members of the public were out on the course to welcome him as he set off.
The trip has sparked further controversy on a Tour de France that has been marred by a doping-related scandal surrounding the tainted Astana team of Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali and questions over the performance of race leader Chris Froome.
But Armstrong batted off the accusation that his presence was a distraction.
“It's one thing if I said, 'Oh, I'm going to go to the race and I want to stand around at the start.' I'm not asking that, you know. I understand there is sensitivity around that, but here helping a group of people in a great cause, I'm going to do that forever,” insisted the former champion.
The participation of Armstrong, who admitted in a stunning TV interview in 2013 that he had doped his way through the Tour de France throughout his career, has already sparked controversy.
The president of cycling's governing body, the UCI, has warned that Armstrong “may not get quite the welcome he would like” in France.
“It is undesirable, I think it is disrespectful. I think there are plenty of ways of raising money for charity that Lance could do,” said Brian Cookson.
Armstrong dismissed the comments, saying: “Brian Cookson needs to worry about other things,” a clear reference to the latest allegations against Froome.
However, Armstrong declined to be drawn on Froome and the numerous questions about doping levelled at him.
“For the first time in a couple of years I've watched the race,” admitted Armstrong.
“It's been an interesting first week. There's obviously a lot of drama in the race, like crashes and winds and things like this that separate a lot of people. Chris Froome has been smart. He's avoided all the problems.”
Asked if he found Froome “impressive”, he replied: “Well, of course. If you're leading the Tour by three minutes, that's impressive.”
For his part, the Kenyan-born yellow-jersey holder, gave short shrift to questions about Armstrong.
“We definitely don't see it as him being necessarily back at the Tour, he's not on the starting line with us,” said the 30-year-old Briton.
However, he said he supported Thomas's cause which was “close to my heart” — Froome's own mother died of a blood cancer a few years ago and he also supports cancer charities.
Armstrong quipped he would have enjoyed the experience much more without a crowd of journalists hovering around him and batted them off, saying he had to get going.
“I have to ride a long way. It's going to take a long time. I'm an old man.”
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.
Published: 14 October 2021 16:04 CEST
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.
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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