Reigning champion barred from 2008 Tour de France

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Organising body bans Contador's Astana team over "trust"

14 February 2008

MADRID - Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will be denied the chance to defend his title at the upcoming Tour,  event organiser the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced yesterday, as a consequence of its decision to ban the Spaniard's team Astana from the race.

Explaining its decision, the ASO cited "the harm this team caused to the Tour de France and cycling in general in 2006 as well as 2007," adding: "Last year Astana betrayed, in effect, the organiser's trust as [the team] was invited to participate based on the promise the directors made to us of complete change."

Financed by a consortium of Kazakh businessmen, Astana was involved in a number of doping scandals last year, which saw its lead cyclist and at the time Tour leader Alexander Vinokourov expelled midway through the race for doping, alongside team mate and compatriot Andrei Kashechkin.

Previously, under the team's former name, Liberty-Würth, ex-manager Manolo Saiz was arrested for his involvement in the 2006 doping ring uncovered in Madrid, dubbed Operation Puerto.

The announcement comes as a surprise to many who consider that Astana has made a series of sweeping changes in management and riders, including bringing in Belgian sporting director Johan Bruyneel, Contador's former director at Team Discovery. With the intention of cleaning up the team's image, Bruyneel announced in October that the new Astana would commit to a fierce anti-doping platform where a team of doctors would monitor riders throughout the year, reporting results to both Astana and cycling's governing body the UCI.

The ASO, aware of the proposed changes, said yesterday that it will be "watching" Astana's attempt to have a 2008 season free of doping incidents, in order to "consider its eventual candidacy for future events."

Contador, meanwhile, has also attracted his share of doping controversy. In the weeks following his unexpected Tour de France win, questions surfaced as to the rider's possible involvement in Operation Puerto, when he rode for team Liberty under Manolo Saiz. In his defense, Contador has always claimed his innocence, saying that he was "on the wrong team, at the wrong time." He was never convicted of any irregularity.

Along with its Tour de France exclusion, Astana was also barred on 4 February by tournament organisers from competing in the Italian Giro, which begins on 10 May.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / KELLY RAMUNDO 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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