By Antonio J. Salmerón
Tour de France champion Alberto Contador seems resigned to missing this year's Tour de France, after the event's organizer ASO didn't invite his Astana squad to contest the event. While other members of the Astana outfit have hopes the French race organizer will reverse its decision, comments made by Contador on Spanish radio indicate the 2007 winner has already come to terms with ASO's decision not to invite Astana to this year's event.
"I am very optimistic and when they see that it's an exemplary team that has nothing to do with last year's team they will change their mind," the Spaniard told EFE radio. "I am not talking bout this year, as that is very complicated, but next year."
Astana, under a completely different team structure and management, was thrown out of last year's Tour after Alexandre Vinokourov returned a positive anti-doping test. Despite the team's complete restructure, which has seen former Discovery Channel boss Johan Brunyeel take over the squad, ASO has adopted a wait and see approach to the outfit.
While ASO waits for Astana to prove itself, Contador and his team-mates will be forced to sit out all of the French organiser's events, which include some the Europe's largest and most prestigious races.
Despite the conundrum that will see the defending Tour champion watch the 2008 edition on television, Contador says he's not for a second considered moving to another, invited team. The Spaniard believes that even if such a move was contractually possible, he wouldn't consider it an option.
"I have a contract to begin with and even if I wanted to leave it'd be practically impossible," he said. "But additionally it [has] never occurred to me because I am a man with principles. I understand that the decision to sign with Astana was a bit risky, but I am responsible if I have done the wrong choice.
"Here is a team that... depends on me," he added. "What I cannot do is to let them down just because they haven't invited us to the Tour. I understand that many fans want me to change teams, but I think they will understand my position."
Contador said that while he fails to understand ASO's decision, he's ready to prove the organizers wrong and give them reason to invite his squad to the world's largest cycling event. "I am surprised and I don't understand that they don't invite us to the races with a team that is completely remodeled," he said. "But we have to wait for the time being and leave the doubts behind."