Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 23 News List

Astana team barred from this year's Tour de France

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, NEW YORK

For the second year in a row, the defending champion of the Tour de France is unlikely to be at the starting line in July.

The organizer of the Tour de France said on Wednesday that it would bar the Astana team, whose members include last year's winner, Alberto Contador, and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer, from participating in this year's race or any other events it sponsors.

The Astana team left last year's tour after its team leader, Alexander Vinokourov, failed a drug test following the 13th stage. Vinokourov was found to have foreign blood cells in his body, indicating that he probably had a blood transfusion during the race, a violation of anti-doping rules.

The Amaury Sports Organization, the race organizer, said it decided to exclude the team "based on the damage caused by this team during the 2007 Tour de France and to cycling in general, both in 2006 and 2007."

Previously, the Tour of Italy refused to extend an invitation to Astana for this year's race.

Contador, a Spaniard, and Leipheimer, an American, rode for the Discovery Channel team last year, but moved to Astana this year after Discovery decided not to renew its sponsorship, which led the team to disband.

After Discovery folded, at least eight current or former Discovery riders, and Johan Bruyneel, the team director, joined Astana, which had its second reorganization in as many years.

The Amaury Sports Organization said that the team's problems in last year's race came despite its promise of a reorganization in 2006. The team was forced to withdraw from the 2006 tour after several of its riders were barred because of their involvement in the Operation Puerto doping probe.

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