Organisers of the Giro d’Italia have provoked controversy by leaving some top cycling teams on the sidelines for this year’s race.
The Kazakh-backed Astana team of Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, has been left out in the cold as has French team Credit Agricole, which stars Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd.
With race organisers, anti-doping authorities and sponsors combining efforts this season in a last-gasp effort to eradicate doping from the sport, the Giro organisers, RCS, appear to have made their positions clear.
While Credit Agricole have stayed free of any such scandals, Astana provided many of the biggest controversies of last season.
Team leader Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping during the Tour de France, was sacked by the team and has now retired from the sport.
His former teammate Andrey Kashechkin also tested positive for blood doping weeks after the Tour, and is currently fighting to find a team amid claims that he is innocent.
Although Astana has a new management, new riders and claims to have a totally new anti-doping philosophy, the team now being run by former Discovery Channel and US Postal boss Johan Bruyneel seems to be paying for past sins – and their relative lack of commitment to the Italian race.
Contador, who is also suspected of being linked to the Operation Puerto doping affair which erupted in Spain in May 2006, is not even sure of being allowed to defend his yellow jersey.
Giro chief Zomegnan told Gazzetta dello Sport Saturday: “Contador has always said that all he is interested in is the Tour de France, and for (American Levi) Leipheimer, the Giro has always been about trying to prepare for the Tour.
“If our race is not part of their plans, then we just won’t invite them,” he added. “Astana weren’t exactly flawless last year. Okay, they have changed philosophy, and their management but we have to wait and see. You don’t just wake up in the morning a changed person.”
Credit Agricole manager Roger Legeay has, among team managers, been one of the leading actors in the fight against doping. And he was stunned his team would not be invited to the May 10-June 1 race.
“What do you expect me to do about it? The organisers are free to choose whoever they want and they obviously believe it will be better without us,” Legeay said from Doha where his team are at the Tour of Qatar.
Legeay is fighting to find a sponsor following the French bank’s decision to pull out after this season.
He also fears RCS, who also organise the Milan-San Remo one day-classic, and the Tirreno-Adriatico one-week stage race, will leave them out of those races.
In total, four ProTour teams (Astana, High Road, Credit Agricole and Bouygues Telecom) were sidelined in favour of a number of smaller, Italian teams.
Astana manager Bruyneel has tried to contact Zomegnan to find out why his team has been left out, according to Astana press officer Philippe Maertens.
“We don’t understand the logic of this decision, especially as everything is in order in our team,” said Maertens. “I don’t think there’s another team that carries out as many (anti-doping) controls as we do.”
The team of reigning Giro champion Danilo di Luca, LPR, has been invited despite Di Luca last year being accused of working with Italian doctor Carlo Santuccione, who was under investigation for allegedly supplying banned substances to Italian sportsmen.
Giro organisers said all teams invited were obliged to adhere to the biological passport system recently been launched by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
RCS said their decisions were based on “ethics and quality”, but that they reserved the “unilateral right to rescind all invitations at any time”.
© AFP 2008