Lance Armstrong will be able to compete in next year’s Tour de France as long as he fully submits to the latest anti-doping controls, the race’s director Christian Prudhomme said on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old American rocked the world of cycling on Tuesday by confirming that he was planning an audacious comeback with a view to winning a record eighth Tour de France next summer.
His seven previous wins from 1999 to 2005 have often been cast into doubt by unproven allegations that he took illegal performance-enhancing drugs and he voiced fears that the race organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) could bar him from competing again as part of their crackdown on doping.
Prudhomme, however, indicated that provided he played by the rules, he would be allowed to compete in next year’s race which starts in Monaco.
“As long as his team, which we don’t know for the moment, and he himself abide by the rules concerning doping and anti-doping which have considerably evolved in the last few years, we will accept him,” Prudhomme told AFP.
“But under no circumstances will we accept a cyclist who refuses to abide by these rules which are stricter and of a different nature than previously,” he added.
Armstrong, who will turn 37 on September 18, said he had decided to launch a comeback to raise global awareness of the need to invest heavily in cancer research.
And he said in an interview with Vanity Fair that he planned to address the issue of doping head-on by submitting to a rigorous testing regime.
“We’re going to be completely transparent and open with the press,” Armstrong said. “So there is a nice element here where I can come with a really completely comprehensive program and there will be no way to cheat.”
On his general sentiments about an Armstrong comeback, Prudhomme said that it would be a huge challenge for the American.
“There are very few sportsmen who have successfully managed to make comebacks of this nature – like Michael Jordan,” Prudhomme said. “It’s a huge challenge to comeback after three years of inactivity, even if he did finish second recently in a mountain bike race.
“On top of that there is his age. He will be 37 in one week,” he added. “I suppose you can always point to Raymond Poulidor who finished second in the Tour at 38 years (1974) and third (in 1976) at 40. Let’s remember though that we are mid-September and a lot of water can flow under the bridge from here until the start of the next tour in Monaco.”
In Spain, news of Armstrong’s decision was welcomed by the 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador who rides for the Astana team that reports have identified as the team Armstrong could join.
“I would welcome him into the team with open arms because a cyclist like him would fit in anywhere,” he said.
Contador said he was convinced that Armstrong believes he can once again compete at the highest levels otherwise he would never have taken the decision to make a comeback.
And he insisted he would have no problems with a potential rivalry between the two in the same team contesting the Tour de France.
“I have always had the highest regard for him and would be delighted to be in the same team as him,” he said.