I'll be at the Tour de France, pledges Contador

By AFP | Sunday, February 10, 2008 10.00pm

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador said Sunday he was untroubled by recent comments that suggest his team may not be invited to this year's race.

"I don't believe I will not race the Tour de France," said the Spaniard, who is focusing his entire season on claiming a second consecutive yellow jersey.

Tour chiefs said recently that Contador and his Astana team would not be guaranteed a place on the 2008 edition, which will be under huge scrutiny following last year's scandal-hit event.

Astana were one of the main culprits in 2007, the team being evicted from the race following team leader Alexandre Vinokourov's positive test for blood doping. Three other team riders have been involved in doping affairs.

The yellow jersey victory of Contador, then racing with Discovery Channel, was also met with some scepticism due his name being linked to the Spanish doping affair dubbed 'Operation Puerto'.

Astana now have new management in the shape of Johan Bruyneel, who helped Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive wins on the race, and since Contador has come on board, alongside former teammate Levi Leipheimer, the team has pledged to run a strict internal anti-doping programme.

However despite those promises, Astana have yet to secure a place on the season's first three-week race - the Tour of Italy.

Giro d'Italia bosses left Astana off their 21-strong invite list when it was announced last week.

"I think the Giro organisers' decision has been blown way out of proportion. It's a different race, not on the same level as the Tour de France," said Contador, who is racing this week at the Tour of Mallorca.

Patrice Clerc, the president of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) which oversees the Tour de France, said last week that their selection policy was based on teams rather than an individual pedigree.

"When we make our selection, we don't pick individual riders but rather the teams," said Clerc.

"We have already taken the right to challenge those people (riders, teams, doctors) who damage the image of the sport," he added.

'Operation Puerto' erupted in May 2006 following a raid on the Madrid laboratory of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, which uncovered doping products, bags of blood and evidence which appeared to link around 200 athletes to a highly-organised system of doping via blood tranfusions.

So far, only Italy's top rider, Ivan Basso, has been sanctioned in the affair. He is currently serving a two-year ban.

Last year the affair virtually vanished under the weight of Spanish legal red tape, however the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and world cycling's ruling body (UCI) is bidding to have the case re-opened.

©AFP

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