PARIS – 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.'“