W has broken out over disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s plans to take part in a race that shadows this summer’s Tour de France in order to raise money for charity.
World cycling chief Brain Cookson yesterday urged Armstrong to abandon the project, which is being organised by former England and Crystal Palace footballer Geoff Thomas in aid of blood cancer research.
Cookson said the American was “ill-advised”, that his involvement was “disrespectful to the current riders in the peloton and to the Tour de France, and that it would create a distraction to the race he once dominated – only to have all of his seven titles from 1999 to 2005 stripped in 2012 for doping.
“There are other ways in which Lance could perhaps raise funds for cancer charities which I know are close to his heart,” said Cookson, president of governing body the UCI. “Doing it in such close association with the Tour de France is a bad idea. I’m asking him not to do it.”
Several sporting directors of current professional teams have questioned the motives of Armstrong, 43, for taking part in the One Day Ahead race, which follows the same route as the Tour 24 hours before the riders.
The Texan’s camp has indicated that he only intends to participate in two of the stages, while the US Anti-Doping Agency, whose lengthy investigation finally ended Armstrong’s years of denials, does not object.
Armstrong said he had been “honoured and humbled” to be invited to join the event by former midfielder Thomas, 50.
Thomas, who got to know Armstrong after attributing his own recovery from leukaemia to the cyclist’s battle with testicular cancer, defended the controversial move.
“I understand some people will find it hard to accept Armstrong’s support but my take is a simple one,” said the 50-year-old former midfielder. “If Armstrong’s involvement in Le Tour – One Day Ahead and my goal to raise £1m for blood cancer can help save one more life then surely that can only be a good thing.”
Armstrong founded the Livestrong charity, which raised money for cancer research, but cut ties after his involvement in doping was exposed.