Two hours on from the announcement by ASO that the Astana team have not been selected for either Paris-Nice or, clearly more importantly, the Tour de France, the Procycling office is wondering what to make of cycling’s latest drama. As things stand, Johan Bruyneel, whose teams have dominated the Tour for the past decade won’t be in France this July, and nor will two of last year’s podium finishers, including defending champion Alberto Contador.
So where does that leave us? On the racing side, it’s in a state of confusion. 2007 runner-up Cadel Evans was quoted only yesterday as saying he hoped Contador and Astana would ride as Evans believes his own Silence-Lotto team is nowhere near strong enough to keep a tight rein on the race, while the absence of Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden adds to the long list of major stage race performers who have been forced out of the Tour frame for a variety of reasons in the past year.
Ask us to pick a favourite and we’d probably plump for someone from CSC – Carlos Sastre or a Schleck brother – based on the all-round strength of that team. A dark horse? How about last year’s King of the Mountains Juan Mauricio Soler, who also showed he’s no mug in time trials. But the way things are going we could even end up with French riders coming into contention.
For the sport as a whole, ASO have made a brave statement, and there is sure to be plenty of debate about how correct they have been. An initial impression is that they have acted not only against the tainted Astana name, but also against Bruyneel, who will rightly argue that his team’s have been the cleanest around over recent seasons. But it seems resentment still lingers in France about those eight victories Bruyneel’s overseen and rumours that still circulate about them.
In passing over Astana, ASO are clearly saying they want their biggest races to be above question and are prepared to do anything they can to ensure this. Let’s hope that whatever happens before July – and there is sure to be plenty to report on yet – that come the Tour start in Brittany the race’s and the sport’s credibility has been raised. That can only be to everyone’s benefit.