Astana not to Tour, will High Road get an invitation?

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14.02.2008/ The Amateury Sports Organisation (ASO) issued a press release on Wednesday in which the race organiser of the Tour de France announced that it will not invite the Astana team at this years edition of the race. Team High Road will recive an invitation for the French stage race.

© Cyclingheroes
Alberto Contador will not be allowed to defend his title (© Cyclingheroes)

In the press release Tour de France organiser ASO said: "A.S.O. has decided not to invite Astana on the events that it organises in 2008, based on the damage caused by this team during the 2007 Tour de France and to cycling in general, both in 2006 and 2007."

The Amaury Sports Organisation used strong words in the announcement: "The Astana team has indeed betrayed, last year, the confidence of the organisers that had invited them based, already, on their faith of a renewal announced by its leaders."

In the future the Kazach team might be invited to ASO races again: "However, as the team has once again changed, A.S.O. will remain careful at the efforts that Astana will set up to live a 2008 season without affairs or suspicion, and could then reconsider a possible candidacy for its future events."

Astana will be allowed to start at the Vuelta Espana

Astana also will not be allowed to start at this years Giro d'Italia. But the team will be allowed to start at the Vuelta Espana. Vuelta Director Victor Cordero told Spanish newsagency EFE that he hopes to see Astana at the Vuelta. Cordero said: "We hope to see Astana on August 30 at the start of the Vuelta  in Granada." Cordero continued by saying: "Contador deserves it to take part at all races in the world. For me he is an example for the future of cycling. The Vuelta did not invite Astana because the team did not deserve our confidence. But they gave us new confidence und we invite all teams to the Vuelta who don't have doping problems. Contador and Astana will be at the Vuelta because of a sports point of view."

© Team Astana
Johan Bruyneel (© Team Astana)

Astana in formed by the media

According to a press release of Team Astana, the team was informed by the media. Astana said: "With surprise, disbelief, incomprehension, but dignity as well, Astana Cycling Team has been informed by the press of the non selection of the team for the races of ASO, including the 2008 Tour de France."

"Since breaking with the ProTour, the Tour de France is free to issue its own invitations. After the non-selection for the Tour of Italy, we knew that there would be a chance that ASO as well would consider not to invite us", said Astana Team Manager Johan Bruyneel. "The Giro argument, that we do not come to the race with our best riders, is no longer valid. With the Tour number one and three of last year, Alberto Contador and Levi Leiphemer, and with two times runner up Andreas Klöden, we maybe have too strong a team now?"

"That the happenings of last year in Tour de France, prompted the Tour organizers to leave Astana out of the season's most important race, sounds understandable. However, Astana Cycling Team 2008 has nothing to do with the team of last year. We have done everything to change the dynamics of the team. New management, new riders, new philosophy. Only the name of the sponsor remained. The Kazakh authorities gave me "carte blanche" to run the team. No pressure was put on us, there was no demand for big wins. We are spending 460,000 Euros on internal anti-doping efforts for 2008. What more can we do? The fact that UCI accorded us a ProTour license proved that our new system functioned well. Maybe that is a part of the problem. Is Astana this year a victim of the war between UCI and ASO?"

"ASO asked us in December for open communication. We communicated a lot but never got a reply. ASO probably has the right to not invite us", continued Bruyneel. "They want to augment the credibility of their races after the happenings of last year. Unfortunately, the Tour de France will now lose much of its credibility by not letting some of the world's best riders participate, even those who were never were implied in doping scandals. The name of Alberto Contador was sometimes linked to the famous "Operation Puerto" affair. A Spanish judge cleared him. Even afterwards, Alberto was always available to the justice authorities to give required information. He really has nothing to do with that sad affair."

Astana Sports Director Alain Gallopin said, "We cannot force anything. It is probably impossible to appeal against their decision. We will prove in other races that we are left home unjustly. But it is better to know early than late that we cannot participate. There are still other races on the cycling calendar. I am disappointed for Alberto. Now I need to make a new program - and soon - for the riders and staff and go forward."

"What is strange," said Bruyneel, "is that ASO does not invite us because of the past of a team that had the same name. Many other teams, with a similar suspicious past, that did not change management or structure, can participate without problems. Where is the consistency? Is the Tour de France not losing all credibility now?"

The overall winner of the 2007 edition of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador is deeply disappointed. After the 4th stage in the Tour of Mallorca, a stage he dominated, he declared with tears in his eyes, "The last weeks I never thought that it would be possible not to do the Tour de France. It is my race, I dream of that race. Yesterday I even did special tests at the velodrome in Palma to improve my time trial capabilities. Now we are not invited. What can we do? Tonight I will look at the calendar. We have to change everything. Don't ask me for the moment which races I will or can do. Anyway, I thank our sponsors who stand behind us, but I'm afraid other sponsors might leave because of what happened today. It is a sad day for cycling."

Astana will also not be invited at other races that are organised by ASO. The Kazack team will not start at the Fleche Wallonne, Liège - Bastogne - Liège, Paris - Roubaix and Paris - Nice and other ASO races.

Team High Road at Le Tour?

Astana wasn't the only Pro - Tour team that did not get an invitation for this years Giro d'Italia. Bob Stapleton's High Road also didn't get an invitation for the Giro but the team did receive an invitation for Paris - Nice. The French stage race is also organised by ASO and the invitation could be an indication that High Road will also receive an invitation for the Tour de France.

Tour de France director, Michael Prudhomme said: "With High Road the case is different. Sinkewitz did dope before the Tour. If one [Prudhomme means the UCI] had wanted to protect the race, one would have announced it earlier."

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