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Comunitat Valenciana team manager Vicente Belda has described the decision to exclude his team from next month's Tour de France as an "over-reaction", and demanded that Spanish minister of sport Jaime Lissavetzky intervene in support of his team. Tour de France organisers ASO announced the decision on Tuesday evening, saying it was staying "faithful to its principals concerning the fight against doping".
As Belda's team was one of just two given wild card invites to the Tour, it was always likely their place would be under threat after Comunitat Valenciana directeur sportif Jos Ignacio Labarta was arrested by Spanish police investigating the alleged existence of a blood doping ring. Although Labarta has since resigned from the team, the incident did severe damage to Comunitat Valenciana's reputation, especially bearing in mind the Tour's lack of tolerance to teams and riders implicated in doping affairs.
According to ASO's press release, "Comunitat Valenciana needed to be faultless from an ethics point of view. The situation of Comunitat Valenciana's sporting director, although he has left his functions, has forced the organisers to withdraw the team's invitation. The team will not be replaced."
Comunitat Valenciana team manager Belda stated he expected Spanish minister of sport Lissavetzky to "defend a team that is entirely innocent". Lissavetzky has been instrumental in pushing a hard-line attitude towards doping practices in Spain. "Lissavetzky knows what is in the [judge's] summary of the case, no rider from our team is involved, and he should have informed the French authorities of this and defended Spain's sporting interests. I'm going to quit, because cycling of this kind is disgusting."
The Comunitat Valenciana regional government that backs Belda's team said it was unaware of the "basis of this decision" in a press release, and asked the team's management to "request an explanation from the Tour's organisers for this exclusion that, we hope, can still be reversed".
Comunitat Valenciana rider David Latasa described the Tour's decision as "arbitrary". Latasa told Spanish radio: "They are ejecting us when no cyclist is implicated and, moreover, there are managers and riders of several, and perhaps even many, teams, implicated."
Vuelta a Espa¤a organisers Unipublic also said they would be reconsidering their invitation to Comunitat Valenciana for their race in September. "But we've got more time to play with and we can wait for the case summary to be released," said Unipublic's Ignacio Ayuso.
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