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Flanders organizer: Lance Armstrong is ‘very welcome’

Lance Armstrong is set to make a high-profile return to Europe in 2018 with a speaking engagement with the biggest spring classic of them all: Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Officials confirmed Thursday the embattled former seven-time Tour de France winner will be an official guest of the race as well as the keynote speaker at the inaugural event of the “Tour of Flanders Business Academy,” a new effort backed by De Ronde promoter and Flanders Classics organizer Wouter Vanderhaute.

Armstrong, 46, remains a divisive and polarizing force within the cycling community, but Vanderhaute said it’s time to welcome back the combative Texan.

“I have felt for many years now that he was above all punished for his arrogance,” Vanderhaute said Thursday. “I met Lance Armstrong in Washington last October and found him to be a chastened man who has made peace with his fate. Of course, we in the cycling sport need to continue making every effort to combat doping, but we also need to come to terms with our past.”

Vanderhaute’s comments are sure to raise the ire of Armstrong detractors.

Since the USADA report in 2012, Armstrong has largely been persona non grata inside the cycling world. Efforts to return to competition in triathlon and even swimming have been thwarted due to his lifetime ban from competitive sport. He visited the Tour de France in 2015, as part of a charity ride tracing the route of that year’s race, but has largely stayed away from major European races.

His seven Tour victories remain blank spaces on the official Tour palmares, and many within cycling blame Armstrong for the sins of his generation. ASO, owners of the Tour and other events, have taken a cold view of Armstrong and his toxic legacy. Armstrong’s legal battle continue as well, with a possible fraud trial delayed until May.

Some of that sentiment appears to be thawing, at least in some quarters. Armstrong has returned to the public eye via his podcast, “Forward,” and last summer gained traction among cycling fans with his “Stages” takes on the Tour de France following each stage in 2017.

More details of the “Tour of Flanders Business Academy” are set to be revealed later Thursday, but Armstrong’s presence guarantees fireworks.

Last summer, efforts to create a media partnership with the Colorado Classic bike race were squashed when USADA raised concerns that an arrangement with race organizers might violate his ban from competitive cycling.

That doesn’t appear to be a worry for Vanderhaute, and the Belgian promotor insists the time is right to welcome back Armstrong.

“I think it’s good that we continue to honor champions like Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque, so why shouldn’t we welcome Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich back into our big cycling family as well?” Vanderhaute said. “To him, this will also be a return to cycling, and as far as I am concerned, he is very welcome.”

More details are set to be released via this link.

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