Ex-footballer, Geoff Thomas, has announced the two stages that Lance Armstrong will be riding during Thomas’s charity ride, 'Le Tour – One Day Ahead'. The American will join Thomas for the 198.5km 13th stage between Muret and Rodez on July 16 and the 178.5km 14th stage from Rodez to Mende the following day, reports the BBC.
Thomas credits Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About The Bike, with giving him the inspiration to fight cancer after being given three months to live in 2003. After Thomas went into remission a decade ago, he rode the entire route of the 2005 Tour one day before the race tackled it. This summer, the 50-year-old will lead 20 cyclists – including Armstrong – in the equivalent endeavour, raising funds for Cure Leukaemia in the process.
Thomas has said he had "no regrets" about inviting the disgraced Texan to take part in the fund-raising event. Nor does he see his presence as being disrespectful of the Tour, an accusation which has been made by UCI president, Brian Cookson.
"We know Lance's involvement has split opinion, so we've tried to be as respectful as possible. The stages Lance will be riding come towards the end of week two, when I know all the riders will need some support. I know his arrival will give them the encouragement they will need to carry on with this gruelling challenge and in turn raise as much money as possible for blood cancer patients."
While Armstrong has sidestepped the mountains, he will still have to tackle some tough terrain with multiple categorised climbs and plenty of uncategorised ones. Most strikingly, the second of the two stages finishes with the Col de la Croix Neuve (also known as the Montée Laurent Jalabert following the French rider’s victory there on stage 12 of the 1995 Tour) which is around 3km long at an average gradient of 10 per cent.
"This is a charity bike ride,” said Thomas. “The Tour turns up on the day, but the day before or the day after it's just a highway, everything's gone. And that's what the Tour is about."
He clearly feels that the positives of Armstrong’s presence outweigh the negatives.
"He's paid for his past and he's going to pay more. It's for the governing bodies to sort that out. I just want to give him the opportunity of helping others. If his two days of involvement help get more revenue in for a good cause then that's great.”
Armstrong himself believes he will get a better reception than many are predicting. “I could be wrong but I’ve been to France since all this happened and that’s not the reaction I get.”