LANCE Armstrong will return to the Tour de France to ride two stages in the Massif Central region next month.
The disgraced American, who was stripped of his record seven Tour titles for using performance-enhancing drugs, will ride alongside former England footballer Geoff Thomas on stages 13 and 14.
Thomas, who made the announcement at a media conference in Birmingham yesterday, is riding the entire route of the 2015 Tour a day ahead of the professional peloton to raise money for Cure Leukaemia.
Armstrong will join the group on Thursday 16 July for the 198.5-kilometre route from Muret to Rodez and Friday 17 July for the 178.5km from Rodez to Mende. The Mende finish is up a steep climb to the Mende Aerodrome.
Armstrong last rode the Tour in 2010 and his decision to ride alongside Thomas has angered many, including UCI president Brian Cookson. Thomas says the group are prepared for the furore Armstrong’s presence will provoke.
“We’ve got rolling road closures and motorbikes,” Thomas said. “They’re confident they can deal with any situation.
“We’re not being silly about this. We know it might be a bit hectic for a few days, but I’ve had to weigh up the pros and the cons with this. I just think the awareness has gone worldwide. It’s up to me and our team to turn that into profit in the charity.”
Thomas admits other members of the squad were reticent about Armstrong’s inclusion, but the charismatic Texan has changed their minds after hosting them in Colorado recently.
“Quite a number of the team have already met Lance Armstrong. And they were sceptical about his inclusion, like everybody else was when it was first announced,” Thomas added. “But after spending a couple of days with him I think they’ll look forward to him coming out. He’s a character. He’s a normal guy. It’s going to be a stage where he’ll come out and he’ll give a boost to the team. It’s been documented what he’s been through and what he’s done.
“As a sportsman I don’t condone that whatsoever, but I look at him as a cancer survivor and a guy who has raised $500 million (£318m) for the cancer community.
“Getting involved in the fight again – I can’t see any harm in that at all.”
Meanwhile, former cycling team manager Bjarne Riis has said he agrees with a report by Denmark’s anti-doping agency that concluded he deliberately ignored drug-taking by riders on the former Team CSC. “The bottom line unfortunately is that the conclusion of the reports is correct. There is no doubt about that. I have not lived up to my responsibility,” Riis said in a statement. “When I then had a feeling that a rider was heading in the wrong direction, I was not always quick enough to indicate that [the rider’s] behaviour was not acceptable.”
He told Denmark’s TV2 channel that he “was not mature enough to take the responsibility” as manager of one of cycling’s top teams, adding “my credibility is not very big”.
Denmark’s anti-doping agency said on Tuesday that Riis had “a greater responsibility” as a top manager who could suspend doping users and report them to the anti-doping authorities. Riis said he himself had been interviewed by Anti-Doping Denmark for the report.
Riis is currently unemployed after Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkov – who now owns the cycling squad created by Riis, Team Tinkoff-Saxo – terminated his contract in March.
Riis himself has admitted using EPO to win the Tour de France in 1996.