Twenty teams with 9 riders each will start at this years Tour de France. ASO was not impressed of more than 75.000 signatures from
fans of Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador who demand that the Astana riders will be allowed to start.
Tour de France director told Reuters newsagency that he wants "to make clear that this decision is aimed at the team, not
at Alberto Contador but he happens to wear the Astana jersey."
The 20 teams that will start are: Gerolsteiner, Team Milram (both Germany), Quickstep,Silence - Lotto (Belgium), CSC (Denmark),
Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel - Euskadi, Saunier Duval - Scott (all three Spain), Team High Road, Slipstream
Chipotle (both USA), Bouygues Telecom, Credit Agricole, Cofidis Le crédit par téléphone, Française Des Jeux, AG2R - La Mondiale,
Agritubel (all six France), Barloworld (Great Britain), Lampre, Liquigas (both Italy) and Rabobank (Netehrlands).
According to Prudhomme told French newsagency AFP: "These are, I believe, the best teams in the world." After a strong
performance at last weeks Paris - Nice there were rumours that Dutch Pro - Continental team Skil - Shimano might get an invitation
for the Tour. French Skil rider Clément L'hotellerie won the mountain classification and the team raced very agressive, attacking at almost every stage. Prudhomme told German
based website Radsport-News.com. "We invited Skil, which already started at several of our races, to Paris - Nice because
they rider very agressive. Clément Lhotellerie was the discovery of the race and its a very promising team. But we wouldn't
do the team a favour by already inviting to the Tour," Prudhomme said.
The invitation for the US Slipstream team did not came as a surprise. "Its an American team and we like their philosophy,"
explained Prudhomme. Slipstream's team manager Jonathan Vaughters told US based website velonews.com: "I feel relieved after
all the work we put in. We proved we are one of the better teams in the world right from the start… The bigger picture
has been A+ work for a new team, so I’m glad ASO agreed with that. Off we go." Vaughters said it was too early to talk
about which team riders would go to the Tour.
The invitation for Agritubel was no surprise either. The French team signed Franch National Road Champion Christophe Moreau
for this season and that was one of the aspects that secured a wild card for Agritubel.
Barloworld received an invitation as well. Prudhomme said: "Barloworld participated last year and won two stages [Hunter
and Soler, editor] and they won the polk-dot jersey." The South - African sponsor of the British team is very happy with the
invitation. "The invitation to the Tour is just reward for Team Barloworld's continuous commitment to professionalism in everything
that they do," said Chris Fisher , head of corporate marketing at Barloworld. Asked about the chance of matching last year's
achievements, Fisher replied: "Last year the other teams in the race didn't really give us a chance. We used it to our advantage.
This year our riders will be more closely marked, but our team is stronger than last year."
The Dutch Rabobank team received an invitation as well. Last year Danish climber Michael Rasmussen was taken out by the
team, while riding in the yellow jersey. "It is a win for the sport of cycling, because this will prevent any further escalations," said
the new General Director of the Dutch team, Harold Knebel at the team website. Knebel started his job on March 1, after
the contract of temporary team director Henri van der Aat expired.
Knebel believes that the positive role of the Rabo team in numerous editions of the Tour and the structure alterations
within his team have been important factors in the decision to send his team an invitation. "We do not want to make a secret
of what happened last year, but one must not disregard the fact that for years the Rabo team has been a major contributor
to the success of the Tour," says Knebel. "I also think that the measures that were taken after last year's Tour – in
close consultation with Henri van der Aat and the ASO – have had a positive contribution."
"I just went to see Erik Breukink and obviously we celebrated this news in an appropriate manner, despite the fact that
in our minds we had never really considered the fact that we would not be sent an invitation. We had not even scripted a possible
scenario that did not include the Tour. The Rabo Cycling Team is simply a part of the Tour. Hence, this invitation did not
come as a big surprise. Our start in Paris-Nice was an omen for a possible participation, but it was not a confirmation, but
we never really had any doubts."
The Director said he is particularly relieved that a potential escalation in the world of cycling will not occur. "Of course
we are not just satisfied and happy for the team, but also for the sport of cycling in general. There have been no further
rejections of teams. In other words, the discussion will not start all over again. Fortunately, because that would have sent
a negative message to potential sponsors within the world of cycling. Four major sponsors will leave after this season, CSC,
Gerolsteiner, Quick Step and Credit Agricole. For now it is important that we can quickly turn this dialogue into a successful
one. The sport of cycling must again come to predominate."