Geoff Thomas, Lance Armstrong and Brian Cookson
Geoff Thomas has been urged to pursue different routes to raise money Getty Images

Lance Armstrong's return to cycling is threatening to overshadow the build-up to the Tour de France after former England footballer Geoff Thomas defended his invitation to the disgraced drugs cheat to participate in a charity ride of the race route in the wake of criticism from the UCI.

Armstrong has accepted an offer from the ex-Crystal Palace midfielder to ride part of the 2015 course to help raise £1m ($1.5m) for Cure Leukaemia after Thomas took inspiration from the account of the American's recovery from cancer.

Stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from life for cycling, the news comes a week after the Cycling Independent Reform Commission found the UCI had colluded during Armstrong's spell at the summit of the sport.

Though without the jurisdiction to ban Armstrong from riding the tour stages for the cause, the number of which are yet to confirmed, UCI president Brian Cookson has branded the move as "disrespectful and inappropriate".

"The charity justification was used quite a lot during Lance Armstrong's career wasn't it and that got us into a mess which is well documented," Cookson told reporters. "There are other ways in which people can do good work and still raise money. I am sure Geoff Thomas is well motivated, and he thought he was doing something good.

"In my view bringing Lance Armstrong to ride on some or all of the route of the Tour de France one day before the actual race, I can't think of better words than disrespectful and inappropriate. I can't add anything to that. It looks likes Lance was persuaded into it and if he was I think it is not a good judgment and I'd ask him not to do it.

"I've never actually met Lance Armstrong, or spoken to him on the telephone or anything else. I am not unhappy with that situation but there is a message I am giving out today."

The cycling chief added: "I am not critical of people raising money for charity, of course I am not, but in this instance I think they can find a better way of improving their fundraising efforts.

"Lance Armstrong can ride his bike across France as much as he likes. But it's nothing to do with the UCI. I think you can make the assumption [that I will not be cheering him on]."

Diagnosed with leukaemia in the year of his retirement from professional football in 2003, Thomas was capped nine times by England during a career where he represented nine clubs including Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest.

Thomas, 50, responded to Cookson's comments in a statement on his Twitter account, stating: "Whatever Armstrong has done since [his drugs shame], and I have gone on record condemning his use of performance enhancing drugs, this doesn't remove the important that he played at that critical period of my life.

"I understand that some people will find it hard to accept Armstrong's support but my take is a simple one: If Armstrong's involvement... can help save one more life then surely that can only be a good thing."

Brian Cookson was speaking at the Sport Industry Breakfast Club, powered by CWM FX.