Vuelta all-clear for Astana and Phonak

Despite the implication of several Astana riders in the Puerto affair and calls from other teams for

Despite the implication of several Astana riders in the Puerto affair and calls from other teams for


The International Cycling Union have told Vuelta organisers Unipublic that the Astana and Phonak teams will be able to start the season's third major tour in Malaga on Saturday despite their involvement in high-profile doping scandals. Vuelta boss Victor Cordero did say, though, that the teams "will dispute the race with riders who are not involved in judicial investigations for doping nor in Operacion Puerto".

The decision to allow Phonak to start comes after the UCI was petitioned by the Association of Pro Cycling Teams, who wanted the Swiss team stripped of their ProTour licence.

Having been given the final all-clear to start, Astana named Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrei Kashechkin, Luis Leon Sanchez, Aaron Kemps, Jos Redondo, Serhiy Yakovlev, Sergio Paulinho, Carlos Barredo and Assan Bazayev as their Vuelta starters.

Doubts still hang over the future of the Astana, though, with former team manager Manolo Saiz, who is heavily involved in the Puerto affair, still insisting he co-owns the team through the Active Bay company he runs with Pablo Anton. The team's sponsors are attempting to break the link with Saiz and gain a ProTour licence in their own right, but the situation is unlikely to be fully resolved until the end of the season.

Astana youngster Luis Leon Sanchez explains in today's Marca that he has a contract with Active Bay until 2008, but would be able to get out of it if the company lost its ProTour licence. "I'm almost sure that will happen, but I have to wait and see," said Sanchez, who admitted he has been talking to other teams - "Discovery, T-Mobile, Illes Balears... I would love to ride for Discovery and also with [Alejandro] Valverde, but the other offers are bigger financially".

He also said Saiz remains adamant he will find a new backer for next season, but commented: "Everyone knows that nobody can see him staying in the world of cycling bearing in mind everything that is happening to him. It's hard to see him staying in the sport. Manolo ought to think a bit more about the riders."

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