Rumours circulating in the media indicate that Amaury Sports Organization(ASO),
the company which owns the Tour de France, may not invite Team Astana to the
2008 edition of the race. That leaves defending Tour champion Alberto Contador
and America's best stage race rider, Levi Leipheimer, on the bench for
professional cycling's biggest show.
One of low points in last year's Tour was Team Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov
testing positive for non-homologous blood doping which resulted in the whole
team being sent home. The fallout from the affair saw a complete overhaul of
the squad, which is sponsored by a group of Kazakstani government-owned
businesses. Johan Bruyneel, who directed Lance Armstrong and his USPS/
Discovery Channel team to seven tour wins plus the win last year by Contador,
was brought in to rescue and rebuild the squad. Gone are almost all of the
team personnel and any rider who had doping problems, including Vinokourov.
Unfortunately, Contador still has a shadow hanging over him with regards to
Operacion Puerto; the initials AC appear on a questionable document. Contador
has declared his innocence, but in the world of denials by confessed dopers,
such as Marion Jones, the Tour champion's words seem to have had little affect
on the head honchos at ASO.
As I reported in an earlier blog, with the Tour de France dropping out of the
Pro Tour, the organizers at ASO now have complete control over which teams will
ride their race. At the 2007 Tour, ASO chief Christian Prudhomme told me that
in 2008 the Tour would be run under ASO's rules and not the UCI's and now that
has happened. Hey, ASO owns the Tour, they can decide to do whatever they
please. Way back in 1930, Tour boss and founder, Henri Desgrange, didn't
invite the 1929 winner, Belgian Maurice De Waele, to the race supposedly
because he didn't like how he won the previous year. I guess some people grow
on you as Desgrange invited De Waele back to the Tour the next year.
I think this sends a pretty clear message to Team Astana that the ball is in
their court and they need to take some pro-active steps to assure Contador's
innocence. The question is, if Contador's words are not sufficient, what does
he and his team need to do to prove their innocence? Hopefully, the Tour
bosses and Johan Bruyneel can come up with reasonable criteria so that everyone
feels like this issue has been dealt with fairly. It would be a shame not to
have the defending champion and also our native son, Levi, excluded from the
Tour on scurrilous grounds.