Cycling - Armstrong embarks on controversial Tour stage
Cauterets (France) (AFP) - Tour de France leader Chris Froome has dismissed as irrelevant disgraced American Lance Armstrong's controversial charity ride due on Thursday.
Armstrong will cycle two stages of the Tour for a leukaemia charity -- from Muret to Rodez on Thursday and from Rodez to Mende on Friday -- a day ahead of the competing riders.
It will be his first appearance at the Tour -- albeit a day ahead of the bonanza's arrival in each venue -- since he was stripped of the seven titles he won from 1999 to 2005 for doping.
But Froome -- who in part thanks to the American's sordid doping history faces accusations of cheating himself every time he puts in an impressive performance -- gave short shrift to questions about Armstrong's ride.
"We definitely don't see it as him being necessarily back at the Tour, he's not on the starting line with us," said the 30-year-old Briton.
"You've got to look at what he's doing which is Geoff Thomas's cause to raise money for blood cancer reasearch. I support his cause, it's close to my heart especially.
"I wish Geoff Thomas and the guys all the best in raising as much money as they can.
"As I said before about Lance, he's not on the line with us here, we're not going to see him, it's a non-event for us."
Froome's own mother died of a blood cancer a few years ago and he also supports cancer charities.
Former England football international Thomas, who beat leukaemia, aims to raise "around £1 million" (1.4 million euros, $1.5million) mainly via sponsorship garnered by the 10 other amateur cyclists riding the route.
As of Tuesday, around 840,000 euros had already been raised, a member of the Geoff Thomas Foundation charity told AFP.
The participation of Armstrong, who admitted in a stunning TV interview in 2013 that he had doped throughout his career, has already sparked controversy.
The president of cycling's governing body, the UCI, has warned that Armstrong "may not get quite the welcome he would like" in France.
"There are a lot of people already out on the course the day before the Tour and I am not so sure they would be delighted to see Lance Armstrong, so maybe he needs to bear that in mind," Brian Cookson told AFP in Sochi, Russia, in April.
The UCI president renewed his call for Armstrong to give up the planned ride.
"It is undesirable, I think it is disrespectful. I think there are plenty of ways of raising money for charity that Lance could do."
Armstrong himself dismissed any concerns about a return to the Tour de France -- at least in an unofficial capacity.
"People think I have this bitter relationship with the country, with its people. I like going there. I love France," he told a small group of journalists, including AFP, last month.
He also batted off Cookson's comments.
"I don't know Brian Cookson. I've never met him, never really had a conversation with him, don't even know what his vision is for the sport," Armstrong said.
"But I do know that me and Geoff (Thomas) riding in France for this cause is the least of his problems."
Cycling has struggled to shake off suspicions of doping since Armstrong's sudden revelations that rocked the sport in 2013.
Even before this year's event started, there was a doping-related scandal surrounding the tainted Astana team of Tour de France champion Vicenzo Nibali.
And a scintillating performance in Tuesday's mountain stage earned Froome accusations of doping, to which the Kenyan-born former champion reacted angrily, stressing: "I know I'm a clean rider."