Astana invited to race the Giro d'Italia next Saturday

Italian newspaper says invitation based on roster

Giro d'Italia organisers performed a dramatic u-turn and invited the Kazakh-backed Astana cycling team to this year's race, it was reported in an Italian newspaper Sunday.

"Yes, I have invited Contador," the Gazzetta dello Sport quoted race organiser Angelo Zomegnan as saying in reference to Spanish Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, 25, the leader of Johan Bruyneel's Astana team.

Contador and his Astana teammates were controversially not invited to either the Giro or the Tour by the respective race organisers earlier this year.

But according to a report Saturday in on the Gazzetta dello Sport website, Astana, the team run by Bruyneel - who helped steer Lance Armstrong to seven yellow jerseys - would finally join the roster of the May 10 - June 1 race.

That initial report claimed their participation would depend on the inclusion of Contador, American Levi Leipheimer and German ace Andreas Klöden - all three of whom have finished on the Tour de France podium.

Race organiser Angelo Zomegnan, cited Saturday by Gazzetta, had said the decision would be taken after the final stage of the Tour of Romandie, currently being led by Klöden.

"Astana remains a candidate to participate in the Giro. We have reserved the right to invite all teams right up till the last minute," Zomegnan initially said in a report on the newspaper's website.

The owners of the Giro d'Italia, RCS - who also own the Gazzetta - did not confirm nor deny the report, but the paper then quoted Zomegnan to confirm their initial story.

Astana were officially notified of their invitation to the Tour of Spain, held in September, days ago although the team had never officially been rejected from the three-week Vuelta.

Organisers of the Tour de France, run by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) said earlier this year that the doping scandals which plagued Astana at last year's race had left them with little choice despite the team undergoing a mass clear-out. 

At the time Zomegnan had explained: "Contador always said he was only thinking about the Tour, and for Leipheimer the Giro would only have been a preparation for the Tour. If our race is not in their plans we shan't invite them." 

The team's former leader, Alexandre Vinokourov, was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during last year's Tour. Weeks after the Vinokourov controversy his fellow Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin also tested positive for blood doping. Other teams riders, including Matthias Kessler and Eddy Mazzoleni, were also involved in doping affairs. 

For the Gazzetta, the reversal comes as Giro organisers feel Astana is guaranteed to send in a strong team in the absence of later Tour opportunities while also recognising their attempts to clean up their act.

Astana are registered in Luxemburg but primarily sponsored by the Kazakh Cycling Federation, the town of Astana and other Kazakh sponsors.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2008 

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