Head of cycling governing body, the UCI, Brian Cookson, has described Lance Armstrong’s plan to ride this year’s Tour de France route for charity as “disrespectful.”
The disgraced American has been invited by fellow cancer survivor and former English footballer Geoff Thomas to ride the route to raise money for Leukemia charity.
The 43-year-old was stripped of his seven Tour titles after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2012.
“Lance Armstrong riding on some or all of the route one day before the race, I can’t think of better words than disrespectful and inappropriate to the Tour de France, the current riders, the UCI and anti-doping,” UCI chief Cookson told reporters at a sports industry meeting on Tuesday.
“The charity justification was used quite a lot throughout his career and that got us into all sorts of a mess which is well documented.
“It looks like Lance was persuaded into it and if he was it’s not a good judgement. I think he would be well-advised not to take part in that.”
He added: “I’ve never met him or spoken to him on the phone or by email, I’m not unhappy with that situation but I think there’s a message I’m giving out today.”
Cookson however said he has no “authority” to stop Armstrong from going ahead with the charity ride.
“He can cycle around France as long as he wants, there’s nothing the UCI can do about that really,” the cycling chief said.
Thomas, who captained Crystal Palace to the 1990 FA Cup final, defended Armstrong, saying he would only ride a few stages. The ex-England international, 50, rode the route of all 21 Tour de France stages a day ahead of the 2005 race proper.
“At first he was suspicious, but I worked on him, told him about what the charity does, and he was intrigued,” former England midfielder Thomas said.
“What I saw was somebody who was frustrated he couldn’t do that type of work with LiveStrong anymore. It’s a great opportunity to get him back into that realm, and hopefully in future help him make millions of pounds for charity again.”
“I knew I’d get a reaction from people who may have not looked to deep into the story. I believe the positives will outweigh that as we go on.”
Asked whether he had any sympathy for Armstrong, who is trying to have a life ban from cycling imposed by American anti-doping body USADA reduced, Cookson replied in no uncertain terms.
“He has been singled out and made an exceptional case but then there aren’t many who have won the Tour de France seven times by cheating, so he was an exceptional case,” Cookson said.
“I’m not anxious to be the president that brings Lance Armstrong back into cycling.”