"You're not welcome."
That's what Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said about Lance Armstrong's return to France last week, who partook in a fundraising charity ride for Cure Leukaemia called 'One Day Ahead'. The 43-year-old, once seven-time Tour champion was encouraged to ride Stages 13 and 14 by his friend and fellow cancer survivor, Geoff Thomas, an ex-Premier League football captain with Crystal Palace, who, as the ride implies, is riding the entirety of this year's race one day ahead of the pro's, just as he did 10 years ago.
"And I thought about that and thought, 'Why?'. It's a fair question," Armstrong told a gaggle of reporters ("50 or 60 present", according to journalist Daniel Friebe in Muret), who, rather than follow the world's biggest bike race, opted to follow him instead.
"And if the answer is because 'you doped...', then that's a serious statement to make. 'You're not welcome?' If you're going to apply that to everybody, then the (Tour) caravan is going to go 'Uuupp!' (motioning downwards) You're going to have a thin peloton...
"Aren't we all well aware that the sport is rife with hypocrisy right now? Newsflash! It just is."
"To ridicule them, or ban them, or unwelcome them... will only incite the ostracised to cast doubt over the performances of the generation of today. Not because they believe them to be less than credible; because they feel mistreated, or at the very least, find themselves part of a glaring double standard."
Professional cycling continues to suffer a credibility issue - no, make that credibility problem. And I, like many of you, I assume, often wonder why, when we continue to be told by all and sundry the sport hasn't been this clean in decades.
Is it because Armstrong keeps showing up to places where he's "not welcome"?
Is it because of his tweets about Chris Froome?
It's worth noting that, when the maillot jaune incumbent said he had urine thrown at him last Saturday, at the stage finish in Mende he did not blame Armstrong for the unruly behaviour of a few but "irresponsible reporting".
"I would blame some of the reporting on the race, it's very irresponsible," Froome said. "Those individuals know who they are. It's not all media. A lot of the reporting has been fantastic. It's been about the race, as it should be.
"But with my victory a few days ago (on Stage 10), and the way the team is riding, there's been a lot of very irresponsible reporting."
Reluctant as I am to defend Armstrong, I don't see him or his tweets as the problem.
What did you want him to say? Why should he know? What if he said Froome et al. were clean as a whistle?
If Tour organisers ASO are going to accept people like Richard Virenque, Laurent Jalabert and Cedric Vasseur - actually, no, make that welcome, since they have been granted media accreditation, and are showcased as "former stars"; the latter pair insinuating last week on television and radio that Froome's ride on Stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin was outside the realms of a clean athlete - onto the race, year after year - notwithstanding everyone else on the race involved in that eighties/noughties/early-to-mid 2000s mess they call the good old-bad old days - why should Armstrong not be welcomed, too?
It's a fair question, to paraphrase Lance.
If Prudhomme was to unwelcome (sounds a bit like de-friending someone on Facebook...) anyone with a tainted past - be it being named, shamed, exposed, or expelled - would that make the situation any better?
Would it make you feel any better?
If they obtained their results and knowledge by unscrupulous means, why do teams continue to hire them, either as riders or members of staff?
The fact remains: at least two, and quite possibly, three to four, generations of cyclists and various support staff behaved irresponsibly. To assume the higher moral ground and say, 'I wouldn't have done that', serves no purpose, other than make you feel ephemerally better.
To ridicule them, or ban them, or unwelcome them... that will only incite the ostracised, like Armstrong and Michael Rasmussen, to cast doubt over the performances of the generation of today. Not because they believe them to be less than credible; because they feel mistreated, or at the very least, find themselves part of a glaring double standard.
More than anything, it's the hypocrisy of it all that's killing cycling right now, which, I believe, is the reason why we continue to doubt any performance of note, like that of Froome's on La Pierre-Saint-Martin. And every time we hear the words incredible, remarkable, fantastic, exceptional, unbelievable, out-of-this-world, or some other superlative, we believe it to be a euphemism for something untoward. Something sinister. Which only adds fuel to the incessant social media fire - as if it needed any extra in the first place...
Froome releases his performance data on the second rest day... What happens?
Oh, that's not what L'Equipe reported... Oh, his weight's been misrepresented... Why deduct six percent off his watts/kg? Osymetric chainrings don't distort the figures that much... So we simply believe what one of their own is telling us?
Endless cynicism. Endless skepticism. Endless confusion. Endless doubt.
A vicious circle... or should that be cycle?
Perhaps, for once, we should accept that while guys like Armstrong profited more than most, he was not the cause but a sympton of a two-to-four decades' old doping epidemic; banning or unwelcoming or castigating or crucifying one will, like the cane toad, simply spawn another.
As Oleg Tinkov suggests, the biggest problem is the disparity between the teams and the current revenue-sharing model where the winner - that being ASO - takes all. This perennial financial dichtomy of haves and have-nots is doing far more damage than little ol' Lance.
If the Tour craves for fairness, then it must first look to itself.