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Flanders Classics organizers made waves in December when they announced that Lance Armstrong would be the keynote speaker at the Tour of Flanders Business Academy the Friday before Belgium’s biggest race.
On Tuesday, Armstrong’s talk was canceled — not due to controversy but rather a personal emergency.
“It is with great sadness and regret that, due to a very serious family and personal matter, I cannot attend this year’s Tour of Flanders,” Armstrong said in a press statement. “Without going into too much detail, and out of respect for my family’s privacy, I must stay close to my home here in Texas to deal with the situation.”
In a Facebook post, Armstrong added:
“I was very much looking forward to being in Belgium for this year’s Tour of Flanders, and regret that a private family matter has prevented me from being there with you all to enjoy what will no doubt be an exciting day of racing. As I’m sure many of you can relate, my family comes first, and I unexpectedly need to be close to home at this time. I’ll be following all the action from Texas, and there in spirit as a longtime fan of this historic, always action-packed race. I’d like to convey my thanks to Wouter Vandenhaute for inviting me to be here to celebrate another year of this true cycling Monument and Roberto Martinez for stepping in when I’m regrettably not able to be there with you. I look forward to returning to Flanders in the future and celebrating this special tradition, one of the greatest in all of sport, beside all of you.”
When Armstrong’s speaking engagement was first announced, Flanders Classics owner Wouter Vanderhaute said, “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? To him, this will also be a return to cycling, and as far as I am concerned, he is very welcome.”
This sentiment did not sit well with UCI president David Lappartient.
“We want to show the clean sport, and Armstrong is not the image of clean sport,” Lappartient said. “I remember the time when Lance was trying to demonstrate he was a clean athlete, so I do not really trust this guy.”
Armstrong, who remains banned for life from cycling and had his seven Tour de France titles stripped for doping, will be replaced by Roberto Martinez, coach of the Belgian soccer team.
“The Belgian ‘Red Devils’ are in the final months before the World Cup in Russia, searching for glory,” said Vanderhaute. “How exciting and hectic is the final preparation of our national team and what goes on in the mind of Roberto Martinez? We’ll get the answer on Friday!”
The men’s and women’s Tours of Flanders races take place Sunday, April 1.