Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme believes cycling is no longer the black sheep of the sporting world after cleaning up its act following years of doping scandals. With other major sports such as athletics hit by scandals and major investigations, cycling is no longer in the global spotlight; with Prudhomme believing the public perception of professional cycling has changed.
"I'm happy to see that the climate is much less passionate than it used to be," Prudhomme told the Reuters news agency during a visit to see some of the key stages of the 2017 Tour de France. The race route will be revealed in Paris on October 18.
"You don't see champions who come from nowhere anymore. The likes of Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves have a pedigree, they shone on the Tour de l'Avenir. It's reassuring.
"A few years ago we had the feeling a change was needed. That's not the case any more."
Prudhomme has defended Amaury Sport Organisation’s interests in recent clashes with the UCI over the reforms of the WorldTour, and he portrays the Tour de France as some kind of mythical event rather than simply the central part of a lucrative sports business.
The former television cycling commentator has been the public head of the Tour de France since 2006, the year the Operation Puerto blood doping scandal broke. He has also had to weather huge doping controversies in 2007, 2008 and 2010, including the exposure of Lance Armstrong and the cancellation of the Texan’s seven Tour de France victories.
"We knew all the cheats and the liars on this earth did not gather up one day to decide they would be taking up cycling. It was not easy but it has been cleaning up its act," Prudhomme said, while also admitting that sport would never totally rid itself of doping.
"We want sport to be perfect, while society will never be. Society is not full of saints or full of crooks," he pointed out.
The latest allegations of cheating concern hidden magnetic motors in frames and wheels. The UCI now carries out checks with a tablet device and claims it is on top of the problem. However Prudhomme reveals that his concerns were only eased when the French police promised to carry out their own investigations using thermal heat guns at secret locations during key stages.
"Eight days before the Tour I was scared that these rumours would mar the race. Then when the secretary of state announced the use of these cameras, I was relieved," said Prudhomme.