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Tour de France organisers ASO may be sticking to their hard line stance on Astana's non-participation in the Tour, which starts on Saturday, but the Hispano-Kazakh team's fate now rests with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). ASO are standing by their decision to block Astana's start, but the team led by Alexandre Vinokourov are hoping that the judge appointed by CAS on Tuesday to decide on the affair will rule in their favour.
The judge is set to hear from both sides on Thursday and make ruling by Friday, which, in theory, would leave the Astana riders with enough time to take a pre-race medical the same day if the judge rules in their team's favour. It should be pointed out that it is up to ASO to prove their case for refusing Astana a Tour start rather. In other words, Astana are not having to appeal against the decision, but simply to state their case against what is effectively ASO's appeal against Astana starting.
ASO's case is based on article 2.15.262 in the International Cycling Union's constitution that allows a race organiser to veto the participation of "a cyclist or a team that is gravely damaging the image of cycling or of the race". ASO's case will be supported by information published in Spanish newspapers El Pais and AS alleging the involvement of several members of the Astana team in the Operacion Puerto blood doping investigation.
Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc has said that he will accept the decision made by the CAS, but will not refrain from expressing disapproval if the decision goes in Astana's favour. He also expressed his disappointment that ASO was being forced to take decisions that the UCI "hasn't got the courage to face up to".
For their part, the UCI have stuck to their stance of making no decision on Astana's participation in the Tour because, they say, this decision should not be based on stories that have only appeared in the press and have not been backed up by official confirmation from the Spanish police or judiciary.
The Astana case is also making waves at the highest political level. Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev has said he was planning to speak to French counterpart Jacques Chirac about the dispute.
The team's riders, meanwhile, are set to arrive in Strasbourg today (Wednesday) after spending last night in Madrid.
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