Cycling's top official Pat McQuaid has hit out at the organisers of the Tour of Italy for failing to select several top teams to take part in this year's race.
The comments of McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (ICU), follow last week's unveiling of the 21 teams to contest the 2008 edition of the race. Notably there was no place for the Kazakh-backed Astana team of Tour de France champion Alberto Contador nor for French team Credit Agricole, which stars Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd.
Also left out in the cold were top ProTour outfits like Bouygues Telecom and High Road.
"I just don't understand it," Irishman McQaid told AFP. "The Tour of Italy organisers (RCS) say that their race is one of the biggest of the season, yet they don't select the best teams because the 18 teams that make up the ProTour are the top 18 teams in the world.
"It's simply a step backwards of about 20 years," he added. "I know the new rules accord organisers the right to invite the teams they want, but we all know that there is a hierarchy of races and teams."
Friday's tour announcement from RCS comes at a time when race organisers, anti-doping authorities and sponsors are combining their efforts to try and eradicate doping from the sport.
While Credit Agricole have stayed free of any such scandals, Astana provided many of the biggest controversies of last season. Team leader Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping during the Tour de France, was sacked by the team and has now retired from the sport. His former teammate Andrey Kashechkin also tested positive for blood doping weeks after the Tour, and is currently fighting to find a team amid claims that he is innocent.
Although Astana has a new management, new riders and claims to have a totally new anti-doping philosophy, the team now being run by former Discovery Channel and US Postal boss Johan Bruyneel seems to be paying for past sins - and their relative lack of commitment to the Italian race.
Credit Agricole manager Roger Legeay has, among team managers, been one of the leading actors in the fight against doping and he was stunned his team would not be invited to the May 10-June 1 race.
"What do you expect me to do about it? The organisers are free to choose whoever they want and they obviously believe it will be better without us," Legeay said from Doha last week.
RCS said their decisions were based on "ethics and quality", but that they reserved the "unilateral right to rescind all invitations at any time."
McQuaid, however, said that they had taken the wrong path.
"This is what happens when you allow organisers to go it alone," he said. "They have their own financial reasons, nationalistic reasons and all that, while the UCI has worked hard to put in place a proper hierarchy based on purely sporting considerations.
"If you ask me, the organisers should be responsible for the organisation of the race not for who is taking part."
© AFP 2008