Tour de France 2015: Lance Armstrong haunts race by returning to ride same route

'Some people are very cynical but I'm not so sure his return is automatically negative,' says one of the disgraced champion's most outspoken critics

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The Independent Online

This morning in the French town of Muret, as about a dozen cyclists prepare for their latest leg of a charity ride along the Tour de France route, one in particular may cause a few heads to turn.

Three years after being stripped of his seven titles in one of sport’s biggest doping scandals, Thursday sees Lance Armstrong return.

The cancer survivor is, for two days, joining “Le Tour – One Day Ahead”, a British charity initiative to raise funds for leukaemia research organised by former footballer Geoff Thomas in which various cyclists ride the Tour route one day ahead of the pros.

Armstrong’s involvement has been greeted with a mixture of reactions in the cycling community. The accusations that the American is using the charity event as a platform for the rehabilitation of his public image have flown around ever since Armstrong said he would ride in it.

Surprisingly, one of Armstrong’s most outspoken critics, former Tour rider Christophe Bassons, believes the return of his old nemesis is not as bad as some are claiming.

 

A key figure in the anti-doping struggle – as he recounts in his autobiography A Clean Break – after he was effectively hounded out of the sport in the early 2000s, Bassons told The Independent: “Some people are very cynical but I’m not so sure his return is automatically negative.”

The French rider, who was famously given a hard time by the American in the 1999 Tour for his outspoken views in favour of clean cycling, added: “I think he wants to restore a good image, the one he had when he worked with the cancer community, and he still wants to do that.”

The UCI president, Brian Cookson, was not in such a forgiving mood earlier this year when he said: “It is undesirable, I think it is disrespectful. I think there are plenty of ways of raising money for charity that Lance could do.”

Thomas, who survived leukaemia, is adamant that the focus should be on “the bigger picture” – raising £1m. “I keep on saying, it’s not my main aim to get Lance Armstrong on his road to redemption,” Thomas said. “My main aim is to get the word out about this charity ride. His profile is massive. That might be for the wrong reasons now, but it was for the right reasons 10 years ago, and hopefully in the next 10 years he’ll be back on the right track.”

Thomas stresses he would never condone Armstrong’s doping “or anybody that overstepped that mark”, but says reading Armstrong’s account of his battle with cancer was an inspiration when he was fighting the disease in 2003.

He added that Armstrong, whose name was dropped from his charity Livestrong when he confessed to doping in 2012, is “upset about not being able to continue his cancer work. I can’t personally see the damage done in the future if he can get back helping and achieving some good goals.”

But Armstrong’s fleeting visit will revive long-term questions for the Tour. Given that some  former dopers seem to have been reintegrated with the race, should Armstrong remain on the outside? And would he want to get closer?

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