By Brecht Decaluwé in Cognac, France
UCI president Pat McQuaid has thrown his weight behind the Astana ProTour team and its right to contest the Vuelta a Espana, the final Grand Tour of 2007, after many questioned if the Switzerland registered squad should be allowed to start. McQuaid has outlined that Unipublic, the organiser of the Spanish race, still wishes to invite the squad despite Alexander Vinokourov's non-negative sample from the Tour de France for Blood doping.
"From my point of view they have every right to start in the Vuelta since they are a ProTour team," McQuaid told Cyclingnews. "They [Unipublic] want to invite them - like the ASO did in the Tour de France - with a wildcard. They did it so that's their choice.
"I've spoken to Astana in recent days and there's are a lot of new changes within that team," he added. "They are examining on new ways on how they can do things. You need to know a little bit more about what's going on before you can take decisions."
For its part Astana has issued a statement defending its other riders who, in its eyes, paid un unfair price for Vinokourov's test results. While organisers of some races have said the Kazakstan-backed squad isn't welcome at their events, most notably the ProTour Deutschland Tour race, Astana has said there's no reason for the integrity of the squad or the other riders to be questioned following Vinokourov's non-negative test.
"This investigation has been very difficult for the entire Team, but these allegations should not cast any doubt on the integrity of Astana or any of its team members," stated Astana manager Nicolay Proskurin.
"We are happy to announce the institution of a internal doping control program," he continued. "We look forward to contesting the rest of the season, in particular, the Vuelta a Espana, and showing that Astana is one of the strongest cycling teams on the ProTour. Astana will continue to look towards the future, and we predict we will continue to attract some of the best cycling talent in the coming years, and become even stronger."