By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Lance Armstrong's plan to ride this year's Tour de France route for charity has been branded "disrespectful" by the head of cycling's governing body Brian Cookson.
The disgraced American, stripped of his seven Tour titles because of blood doping, has been invited by fellow cancer survivor and former English soccer player Geoff Thomas to ride the route to raise money for a leukemia charity.
"I understand that he's been approached by Geoff Thomas to take part in a charity event and I'm sure that Geoff means well," UCI chief Cookson told reporters at a sports industry meeting on Tuesday.
"Bringing Lance Armstrong to ride on some or all of the route one day before the race, I can't think of better words than disrespectful and inappropriate to the Tour de France, the current riders, the UCI and anti-doping.
"The charity justification was used quite a lot throughout his career and that got us into all sorts of a mess which is well documented.
"It looks like Lance was persuaded into it and if he was it's not a good judgment.
"I've never met him or spoken to him on the phone or by email, I'm not unhappy with that situation but I think there's a message I'm giving out today."
However, Cookson said he was powerless to stop Armstrong going ahead with the charity ride.
"I have no authority," he said. "He can cycle around France as long as he wants, there's nothing the UCI can do about that really."
Asked whether he had any sympathy for Armstrong, who is trying to have a life ban from cycling imposed by American anti-doping body USADA reduced, Cookson was unequivocal.
"He has been singled out and made an exceptional case but then there aren't many who have won the Tour de France seven times by cheating, so he was an exceptional case," Cookson said.
"I'm not anxious to be the president that brings Lance Armstrong back into cycling."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)