Like an unwanted ghost, Lance Armstrong has returned to the fringes of the Tour de France on a money-raising ride ahead of the showcase race he once ruled.
The Texan, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping, set off early Thursday morning with former footballer Geoff Thomas to help raise funds to fight blood cancer. Armstrong is riding the Tour route one day ahead of the race in two stages, starting with Thursday’s trek from Venerque to Rodez in southern France.
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Riding with amateurs and without hordes of fans cheering him on is a major comedown from Armstrong’s heydays from 1999-2005, when winning the Tour turned the cancer survivor into a superstar.
Lance Armstrong says he understands there are "hard feelings" toward him in the cycling world that will go on for a long while, but appreciated the "warm" French welcome nonetheless:
Incredible first day w/ the @TdF1DayAhead crew. Hot & hilly but gr8 time. And a big thanks/merci to the French people for the warm welcome
Some competitors in the race this year have reacted to Armstrong’s presence — and the media circus surrounding his return to French roads — with indifference. Race leader Chris Froome called it "a non-event for us."
In a crush of dozens of reporters, Armstrong was asked whether he believed the race was now clean. "How can I answer that question?" he replied. "I am not a specialist."
Earlier in the week, Armstrong tweeted this out about the Tour leader:
1. Clearly Froome/Porte/Sky are very strong. Too strong to be clean? Don't ask me, I have no clue.