Kloeden fury at Astana ban

German ace lashes out at Tour organisers

German cyclist Andreas Kloeden has reacted angrily to the news his Astana team - including reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador - have been barred from competing in this year's race.

On Wednesday, Astana were officially barred from the 2008 Tour this July as a result of doping scandals over the past two years. The Luxembourg-registered Kazakh team were forced to withdraw from the 2007 Tour de France and were snubbed by the Spanish Vuelta in September after a string of doping scandals.

The team's former leader Alexandre Vinokourov was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during the Tour, while riders Andrej Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler also failed doping tests.

ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) said that given "the damage caused by this team to the Tour de France and cycling in general, as much in 2006 as 2007" they had decided to prevent Astana from competing in any of their races. As well as Contador, the decision also affects American Levi Leipheimer, who is reported to have said the team are prepared to fight for their inclusion, and Germany's Kloeden, widely considered as one of the race favourites.

"Of course I'm disappointed about the fact that I can't start in the Tour de France," Kloeden wrote on his website. "And it's difficult for me to understand the justification of the ASO directors."

Kloeden was angry enough when he was forced to withdraw from the 2007 Tour, so news he will miss out in 2008 has bitterly frustrated the German.

And Spaniard Contador was also upset at not being able to defend his title. "That is a sad day for cycling," said Contador.

"My main goal for this year was to repeat the triumph of 2007. But that is not possible for me now."

Spanish daily ABC stressed meanwhile that "the Tour vetoes Astana, not Contador" in a Thursday headline while noting he could compete if he changed team.

Vuelta director general Victor Cordero said in Spain that "we do not have problems with Contador and to kick him off the Tour (de France) was a bit excessive."

Spanish secterary of state for sport, Jaime Lissavetzky, protested for his part at an "injustice" done to Contador saying the decision was "baseless." "You can't deprive a champion of the right to defend his title," he added.

Astana's new manager Johan Bruyneel was at a loss to explain the decision to exclude his team.

"This decision is totally incomprehensible. Our current team has nothing to do with last year. We have spent 460,000 euros (672,500 US dollars) on the fight against doping. What more can we do?"

The decision by ASO is likely meet strong opposition from International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid, who slammed the decision of the Tour of Italy organisers similarly not to invite Astana to compete in this year's race.

© AFP & BikeRadar 2008

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