Armstrong, a shadow of his former self, casts shadow on Tour

RODEZ, France (AP) The fields rolled by, the dark glasses were again on his nose, and he was back riding in France.

It just wasn't quite like the good old - or to some, the bad old - days for Lance Armstrong.

The few autograph-seekers or roadside onlookers who came to see Armstrong ride the Tour de France route for charity was a testament that the 43-year-old Texan is far less the draw he once was before his seven Tour de France titles were stripped for doping.

Armstrong's presence was welcomed by some in the peloton as he rode, but openly criticized by more, particularly for taking the spotlight away from the race.

Aside from the crush of reporters that he can still draw - after years of lawsuits and cancelled sponsorships - the disgraced Armstrong gave a glimpse at a lower-budget, less glamorous image in his two-day ride to help fight leukemia, and was grateful for positive reactions.

''Anything that has been yelled has been 100 percent supportive. Not one `tricheur' (cheater), not one `Go home,''' said Armstrong, all but acknowledging his controversial presence. ''We're not done, so at some point I'm sure somebody will say something.''

They've been saying something ever since the testicular cancer survivor was invited by British former footballer Geoff Thomas, a cancer survivor, to join the Le Tour-One Day Ahead benefit ride.

UCI chief Brian Cookson said it was ''undesirable'' and ''disrespectful,'' teams didn't like it, and yellow-jersey holder Chris Froome was one Tour cyclist to offer misgivings.

Armstrong's return ultimately points to just how far he has fallen, even if his name recognition retains a potentially valuable - and valued - currency. That a British charity called on him to promote their cause serves as an unspoken reminder that he was kicked off the board of the cancer-fighting charity that he built into a multimillion-dollar behemoth: Livestrong.

Armstrong hasn't missed the highly visible opportunity to conjure his rider past, and get in a few digs - like his tweet that he couldn't possibly know whether Froome, whose standout performances smack of Armstrong's prowess at its height, might be doping. That unnecessarily stirred doubt about whether the race is cleaner, despite big efforts by the sport's stakeholders to do just that.

He also noted how other former cyclists who once doped are still connected with the Tour entourage, including a few who are TV commentators.

''We all rode in an unfortunate era. But if you're going to apply a standard it has to be universal,'' Armstrong said. ''We're all well aware the sport is rife with hypocrisy right now. Newsflash! It just is.''

Thomas knew Armstrong would garner more attention than his campaign, but he believed any publicity was good publicity, and a spokesman said more than 600,000 pounds (about $930,000) has been raised for Cure Leukaemia, of a targeted 2 million pounds ($3.1 million) by the end of 2016.

''Part of me would prefer to be at home chilling with my family. This is not easy,'' said Armstrong, who signed a few autographs on Friday among a small turnout of fans. ''But I didn't come over here to launch a PR campaign for myself.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.