Disgraced former American cyclist Lance Armstrong is controversially set to attend next year’s Tour of Flanders as a guest of the famed cobbled classic, race organisers said on Thursday.
Armstrong was stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles won between 1999 and 2005 for a reign of doping that badly tarnished cycling’s credibility.
But officials for the prestigious ‘Monument’ race said the 46-year-old will be an invited guest and a keynote speaker at the Tour of Flanders Business Academy ahead of the April 1 classic in Belgium.
“Lance Armstrong is delighted to be visiting Flanders to tell his story and experience his favourite one-day race live. To him, this will also be a return to cycling and, as far as I am concerned, he is very welcome!” said race organiser Wouter Vandenhaute.
“Lance Armstrong is and remains a great champion. I have felt for many years now that he was above all punished for his arrogance.
“I met Lance Armstrong in Washington last October and found him to be a chastened man who has made peace with his fate.”
The UCI, cycling’s governing body, told AFP it was unwilling to comment on Armstrong’s possible return to the sport.
Armstrong has largely been shunned by the cycling world since being exposed as a doping cheat. He was issued with a lifetime ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2012.
Having denied the doping allegations for years, Armstrong eventually made a public confession in a television interview with US chat show host Oprah Winfrey in 2013.
He returned to the public eye during this year’s Tour de France by providing his perspective on the race on a daily podcast called “Stages”.
But Armstrong admitted at the time there will be those who forever begrudge him any role in cycling, even from a distant commentary post after watching telecasts.
“I don’t fight that,” Armstrong told Bicycling magazine in July. “For me to move forward, I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I understand, but I’m moving on.'”
Chris Froome admitted on Thursday that his adverse drugs test during his victory at the Vuelta a Espana is “damaging” as the four-time Tour de France winner battles to clear his name.
The British rider had twice the permissible amount of asthma medication Salbutamol in his system during the Grand Tour race he won in September.
Cycling’s governing body UCI has asked the Team Sky rider to provide more information but in line with World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines has not suspended him.
If Froome fails to provide a satisfactory answer the UCI could proceed with an anti-doping rule violation case, which could strip him of his Vuelta victory and result in him missing a large chunk of next season.
“This is damaging. It’s come as a huge shock to me as well,” Froome, 32, told Sky Sports.
“At the same time I know within me that fundamentally I have followed the protocol, I have not overstepped any boundaries and I hope by the end of this process that will be clear to everyone and I’ll be exonerated of any wrongdoing.
“I can’t say what other people are going to think at the end of this. I can only obviously control my input to the situation.”
It’s sad seeing the misconceptions that are out there about athletes & salbutamol use. My hope is that this doesn’t prevent asthmatic athletes from using their inhalers in emergency situations for fear of being judged. It is not something to be ashamed of @asthmauk #asthma
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) December 14, 2017
Team Sky said in a statement on Wednesday that Froome experienced “acute asthma symptoms” during the final week of the Vuelta and increased his dosage of Salbutamol, within permissible limits, on medical advice.
“Coming into the last week of La Vuelta I began to feel a lot more symptomatic – my asthma was playing up a lot more and that’s when the doctor advised me to increase the number of puffs – obviously staying well in the legal limit of the maximum allowed number of puffs you can take during the race,” said Froome.
“So we did increase it and that’s why we’re faced with this question of ‘I did stay within the limits but obviously the test results show a different reading’ so we’re trying to evaluate what has happened.”
Froome, widely considered the greatest Tour rider of his generation, is scheduled to race the Giro d’Italia in May 2018 ahead of defending his Tour de France title in July 2018.
The test raises fresh questions about British cycling following the scandal surrounding Bradley Wiggins, who received therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) to take a corticosteroid in 2011, 2012 and 2013, including before his 2012 Tour de France win.
Wiggins and Sky have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying the drug was prescribed to treat a longstanding pollen allergy.
Chris Froome has vowed to provide whatever information is required by the UCI about his use of medication for asthma during the 2017 Vuelta a Espana after a urine test revealed a concentration of Salbutamol double the WADA threshold.
Team Sky said in a statement that Froome experienced “acute asthma symptoms” during the final week of the Vuelta and increased his dosage of Salbutamol, within permissible limits, on doctor’s advice.
The four-time Tour de France winner conducted a urine test on September 7 which revealed a concentration of Salbutamol of 2,000 nanograms, twice the WADA threshold of 1,000.
The Team Sky statement said the “use of permissible dosages of Salbutamol can sometimes result in elevated urinary concentrations, which require explanation”.
Froome said: “The UCI is absolutely right to examine test results and, together with the team, I will provide whatever information it requires.”
The UCI released a statement detailing information about Froome’s failed drugs test.
“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) confirms that British rider Christopher Froome was notified of an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) of Salbutamol in excess of 1000ng/ml (*) in a sample collected during the Vuelta a Espana on 7 September 2017,” the statement read.
“The rider was notified of the AAF on 20 September 2017. The anti-doping control was planned and carried out by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), the independent body mandated by the UCI, in charge of defining and implementing the anti-doping strategy in cycling.
“The analysis of the B sample has confirmed the results of the rider’s A sample and the proceedings are being conducted in line with the UCI Anti-Doping Rules.
“As a matter of principle, and whilst not required by the World Anti-Doping Code, the UCI systematically reports potential anti-doping rule violations via its website when a mandatory provisional suspension applies. Pursuant to Article 7.9.1. of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, the presence of a Specified Substance such as Salbutamol in a sample does not result in the imposition of such mandatory provisional suspension against the rider.
“At this stage of the procedure, the UCI will not comment any further on this matter.”