ProTour teams demand crisis talks after Giro decision

Exclusion fuels UCI vs Grand Tours battle

Nine ProTour teams have demanded immediate talks with the organisers of cycling's three major Tours in response to two prominent teams being excluded from this year's Tour of Italy.

All 18 ProTour teams are supposed to be included in the season's major races, although the landscape has changed in the wake of a dispute between major race organisers and the International Cycling Union (UCI). The Tour of Italy, Tour de France and Tour of Spain - and other races owned by the trio's respective management companies - are no longer part of the ProTour following disagreements over the way the series, introduced by the UCI, is run.

Both Astana and Credit Agricole - ProTour teams - were left of the Tour of Italy's list of invitees, and while the French outfit have avoided scandal Astana endured a doping-tainted 2007 season. Added to a number of other affairs, it appears to have given organisers the upper hand when it comes to choosing teams for their races.

But with concerns growing over their future participation in the big tours of Italy, France and Spain, half of the 18 ProTour teams are now considering drastic action.

"We understand and respect the organisers' desire to avoid the presence of teams that could damage the image of the sport," said a statement from the group of nine teams. However we don't want to come to a situation where we are forced to apply pressure by saying; 'either you take all of us, or none of us'."

Some prominent teams are involved in this move, including the Quick Step team of world champion Paolo Bettini as well as Lampre, Saunier Duval, Liquigas, Milram, Rabobank, High Road, Astana and CSC.

Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov and the whole Astana team were kicked off the Tour de France last year after he tested positive for blood doping.

After initially citing that incident as one of the reasons not to invite Astana to the May 10-June 1 race, Tour of Italy chief Angelo Zomegnan said Monday his decision was more to do with the quality of riders the Kazakh-backed team would likely send.

"At this moment, the quality of the proposed participating riders for the Giro is not in proportion to the potential of the team," said Zomegnan. "I do not take into consideration what happened with the old Astana in the past. Time probably cures all things."

Astana, now registered in Luxembourg, have a new management and have promised to introduce a comprehensive internal anti-doping programme. A new team of riders, including Contador and Tour de France podium finisher Levi Leipheimer, have come on board along with their manager, Johan Bruyneel, from the now defunct Discovery Channel team.

Bruyneel helped Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive Tour wins, and led Contador to his first yellow jersey last year.

But as the various bodies and interests in cycling fight to rid the sport of doping cheats, Contador - who has been linked to the Operation Puerto doping scandal which has hovered over the peloton since May 2006 - has also been threatened with not being given an invite to the Tour de France.

© AFP 2008

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