Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Alberto Contador Rages In Mallorca

News of the ASO's snub reached the 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador during stage four of the Volta a Mallorca. Charged with emotion, Contador attacked the peloton, catching the two-man breakaway of Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Jesús del Nero (Saunier Duval) which had been away for much of the stage, and charged away solo up the category two final climb. Clearly angry, he yelled to the television camera, "Astana in the Tour!". Ultimately, his effort was reeled in by the sprint-hungry bunch, but after the race, the 25-year-old Spaniard was close to tears describing his dashed hopes for a second Tour victory.

"My objectives for this year were to win the Tour again," Contador said. "The Tour is a race that I've always dreamed about, that I've always hoped to do before and again in the future. My objectives this year were to win it again, but I may not be given the possibility. This isn't a good moment to speak about this."

The Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme made it clear that the decision was made not as a personal slight against Contador, but as a reflection on the Astana team's past history. "If Contador changes teams, then he can take part," Prudhomme said. "This decision was not made against him."

The Spaniard expressed concern for the Astana team's Kazakh sponsors now that the Tour de France invitation had not been secured. "I thank our sponsor who stays behind us, but I'm afraid other sponsors can leave cycling because of what happened today. It is a sad day for cycling."

The Vuelta a España director Victor Cordero told Marca he felt the ASO's decision was excessive but justifiable, and that the team would be welcome to race in the Vuelta. Last year, Astana did not race the Vuelta after the doping positives of Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, but Cordero said he has confidence that the team has changed.

"Contador deserves to be in all the races and for me he is a model for the future," Cordero said. "But what his team did in the past has led to this ban."

Contador went on to say that he may focus instead on his home tour, the Vuelta a España as well as the Olympic Games. "I hope that this is going to animate the Spanish people so that they enjoy my return to the Vuelta a España," he said at the post-race press conference. He later told Marca, "Although I would like to race the Tour, I have a plan B if I cannot race the Tour. I can still do a lot of preparation for the Olympic Games... and the Vuelta is my home tour."

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