Wednesday, February 20, 2008

UCI Backs Contador For Tour de France

The International Cycling Union (UCI) will do all it can to ensure that defending Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain will take part in this year's edition of the cycle race, its president said Wednesday in a newspaper interview.

The tour's organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), ruled on February 13th that Contador's Astana team would be barred from competing in this year's race as a result of doping scandals over the past two years.

"We will do everything that is possible to ensure that Contador takes part in the Tour. It would be a tragedy if Contador could not defend his title," UCI president Pat McQuaid told El Pais.

"It's unjust and unjustifiable. Its a decision taken by people who don't understand this sport," he added.

Tour organisers said they had decided to prevent Astana from competing in any of their races because of "the damage caused by this team to the Tour de France and cycling in general, as much in 2006 as 2007."

The Luxembourg-registered Kazakh team were forced to withdraw from the 2007 Tour de France and were snubbed by the Spanish Vuelta in September after a string of doping scandals. The team's former leader Alexandre Vinokourov was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during the Tour, while riders Andrei Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler also failed doping tests.

Since their drug-tainted 2007 season, Astana have undergone a makeover, and promised to clean up their act. A new team of riders, including Contador and Leipheimer, have come on board along with their manager, Johan Bruyneel, from the now defunct Discovery Channel team.

Bruyneel helped Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive Tour wins, and led Contador to his first yellow jersey last year. Contador joined Astana in a two-year deal in October.

Astana have also been left out of a list of 21 teams due to compete in this year's Giro d'Italia.

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