By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - The specter of Lance Armstrong's dirty legacy will haunt the 100th edition of the Tour de France even though cycling has already started its much-needed transformation.
While riders have been distancing himself from the American and what he has come to represent, at the forefront of fans' and pundits' minds will be the fact it is the first Tour since Armstrong admitted to doping his way to his seven titles from 1999-2005.
However, American Andrew Talansky, one of several U.S. pros who have grown up watching Armstrong effortlessly sprint up the French mountains, believes it is now safe to be enthusiastic about cycling.
"The first thing I point out to people who want to say 'why can we believe in cycling now?' is that now you have guys like (Frenchman) Thibaut Pinot who on his first year on the Tour is top 10," Garmin-Sharp rider Talansky told Reuters earlier this season.
Talansky's team mate David Millar, a repentant ex doper believes the sport's doping culture is the new generation's burden - not something they perpetuate.
"It makes them more angry than anything else to have to deal with the mistakes of another generation," he told Reuters.
"I think it's more the case of the shift already happened.
"We educate our young riders that they can talk about this, we never gag them," he explained.
But not every team is as comfortable talking publicly about cycling's doping past as the Garmin-Sharp team.
Earlier in the season, BMC riders were instructed not to answer questions containing the name of Lance Armstrong.
"A question that includes Lance Armstrong's name is not a relevant one for any of the BMC Racing team riders or managers during Paris-Nice. This was mandated by president/general manager Jim Ochowicz," a BMC representative wrote to Reuters in March.
The perception of cheats within the sport is changing too.
While Frenchman Christophe Bassons pulled out of the 1999 Tour saying he had been bullied by Armstrong for speaking up against doping, those who get caught are now being castigated by a large part of the peloton.
When Italian veteran Danilo Di Luca tested positive for EPO on the Giro d'Italia last month, he was openly criticized on social media.
"Di Luca! Doping in cycling disappeared but not in your cycling world! 0 tolerance for cheaters! Hope you never come back to cycling," German sprinter Andre Greipel wrote on his Twitter feed.
In another sign that times are changing, earlier this month, French team AG2R La Mondiale suspended themselves for a week and missed the Criterium du Dauphine when they followed MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling) rules.
The regulations of the MPCC state that a team must suspend themselves if involved in two doping affairs in a 12-month period.
"There is a new generation of riders who have nothing to do with doping and can win races," International Cycling Union President Pat McQuaid told Reuters last month.
(Editing by Alison Wildey)