'Don't give up on us'
Cycling appeals to fans as Tour de France organisers unveil race route
PARIS, France (AFP) — Cycling yesterday sought to move on from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal as leading riders urged fans not to give up on the sport and Tour de France organisers unveiled the race route for its historic 100th edition.
Two days after world cycling authorities wiped clean Armstrong's results back to August 1998, including his record seven Tour wins from 1999 to 2005, details of a gruelling 3,360km course were announced of the race the disgraced US rider dominated.
Next year's Tour, which starts for the first time on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, includes a twin climb of the monster Alpe d'Huez and an unprecedented sunset finish on the sweeping Champs Elysees boulevard in Paris.
The glitzy presentation of the race, however, was dominated by the fall-out from the Armstrong scandal that has left cycling in a fight to save its reputation and future from a doping-scarred past.
Race director Christian Prudhomme, who is against re-awarding Armstrong's Tour titles and is seeking the repayment of the rider's nearly euro2.95 million (US$3.8 million) in winnings, said cycling needed a "real cultural shift" to move forward.
He urged professional teams to join the "clean cycling" union the MPCC (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible), which has strict rules over the use of banned substances.
"The only way in which to change the culture (in cycling) is to apply draconian rules such as those that members of the MPCC apply," he told reporters.
"Doping is the enemy, not cycling and even less so the Tour."
Prudhomme's call indicates a growing recognition that cycling needs to change, given the damage inflicted by the Armstrong affair and questions about the credibility of the sport's authorities and their handling of the scandal.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) is due to meet tomorrow to discuss the next steps after its president described the Armstrong affair as sport's "biggest crisis" ever and led to one major sponsor pull out, calling the sport "sick" to its core.
But current riders, including 2011 winner Cadel Evans and this year's champion Bradley Wiggins, both said that despite the headlines created by Armstrong, cycling had made great strides to clean up its act.
Wiggins, the first British rider to win the Tour, said he was angered by the revelations and because the actions of Armstrong and other riders had cast doubt over their achievements.
"We're the ones picking up the pieces and having to convince people that the sport is clean — and it's difficult to convince some people, it really is, because of a precedent that has been set," he said.
For his part, Evans said the sport had learnt from the past and there was now "a level playing field where the hard work, meticulous equipment preparation and natural ability are winning the big, beautiful, prestigious races".
"For those who are disappointed with the situation right now: do not despair, do not abandon us now we are in our best years, preparing things for our most important moment yet — the future," he wrote on his website.
Current world champion Philippe Gilbert said he believed that it would take "several generations" to restore the sport's reputation.
Armstrong could lose another honour after the mayor of the commune d'Huez in the French Alps announced yesterday that he wanted to strip the Texan's name from two corners named after him on the legendary Tour de France climb.
The Alpe d'Huez is one of the Tour's most famous climbs, comprising 21 corners over 14km and an altitude of 1,850 metres. Each corner carries the name of stage winners, including Armstrong, who won there twice in 2001 and 2004.
Elsewhere, the Italian sports doctor accused of playing a key role in Armstrong's elaborate doping programme denied in a new book that he had had any professional dealings with the American since October 2004.
Michele Ferrari — already banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency that compiled the devastating dossier against Armstrong — also rejected claims that he had seen other US riders who accused him of overseeing the use of banned substances.