Tour De France celebrates centenary in wake of Lance Armstrong scandal.
Tour de France organisers on Wednesday unveil the route for the historic 100th edition of cycling’s most famous race, with celebrations overshadowed by a damaging doping scandal involving former rider Lance Armstrong.
Defending champion Bradley Wiggins — Britain’s first ever winner of the race — was set to attend the glitzy presentation in the French capital, alongside former champions including Alberto Contador of Spain.
The unveiling of the Tour route is a much-anticipated annual event, particularly for 2013, 110 years after France’s Maurice Garin won the first edition, which ended with a mammoth 471km sixth and final stage from the western city of Nantes to Paris.
Since then, and barring breaks for World War I and World War II, the battle for the coveted yellow jersey has become cycling’s biggest event and seen it grow to include stages across Europe.
Next year’s race begins on June 29 at Porto-Vecchio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica and finishes on the Champs Elysees in central Paris on July 21.
Details of the stage routes and events to celebrate the 100th edition milestone, however, are likely to take second place to questions about how the Tour moves on from the Armstrong affair and its revelations of widespread doping among riders.
Armstrong, who won the race an unprecedented seven times in succession from 1999 to 2005, was on Monday stripped of those victories and his career record wiped back to August 1, 1998, following a damning US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation.
The president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) called the scandal “the biggest crisis ever” in the sport, amid claims of cover-ups and corruption that have damaged the credibility of professional racing.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme has said that organisers would prefer not to re-attribute Armstrong’s wins to other riders, with finding a podium finisher not implicated in doping affairs in those years a difficult task.
The UCI is set to meet on Friday to discuss the formal withdrawal of Armstrong’s Tour victories, amid calls to strengthen procedures against dope cheats and improve testing.
Prudhomme, meanwhile, is seeking repayment of nearly 2.95 million euros ($3.8 million) paid to Armstrong for his seven Tour victories, as part of wider efforts to recoup the Texan’s career prize money, bonuses and other pay-outs.
The scandal comes not only as cycling seeks to move on from its tarnished past but also after Wiggins and his Team Sky riders did much to increase the popularity of the Tour outside continental Europe.
His victory — and Olympic road time-trial gold medal in London weeks later — did much to boost interest in cycling in Britain.
The 32-year-old, whose breakthrough win was also cemented in a time-trial, faces a major threat from Contador, who won in 2007 and 2009.
The 29-year-old — one of just five riders to have won the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Tour of Spain — is set to return to the race after serving a doping ban and had a strong end to his curtailed season this year.
Other riders tipped as potential contenders include Wiggins’ team-mate Chris Froome, who many observers believed might have won the race outright had he not been riding for his team leader.
Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who was awarded the 2010 yellow jersey after Contador’s disqualification, is also back in full training after four months on the sidelines with a fractured pelvis on the eve of the 2012 Tour.
Philippe Gilbert of Belgium will wear the world champion’s rainbow jersey and is a strong contender for stage wins.
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