By Antonio J. Salmerón
After being snubbed by Paris-Nice organisers, ASO for all their races this year, including the Tour de France, Astana will take a strong team to the Vuelta a Murcia, held from March 4-8. Shortly after hearing the news of their non participation in the worlds biggest race, Contador, the 2007 Tour de France winner, stated that he had a 'plan B,' should the team not get an invite to Paris-Nice, a race which he also won last year.
Contador will line up for the start with along with American, Levi Leipheimer who finished third at the Tour last summer and Andreas Klöden who has twice finished on the podium in Paris.
Leading the team will most likely be Toni Colom, who displayed his good early season form at the Challenge de Mallorca, challenging Phillip Gilbert for the victory until the very end. Maxim Iglinsky, also showing strong early season form could also challenge for the win, which Astana will be hunger after recent events.
The Vuelta a Murcia was always liked by Lance Armstrong during his dominance with the now-defunct Discovery Channel, which is likely why Johan Bruyneel supported the decision to attend with Contador.
Mean while, Contador's countryman, Alejandro Valverde, has reacted to ASO decision. Speaking to Cyclingnews, the Spaniard expressed his disappointment that Contador would not be participating at the 2008 Tour. "I think the best riders in the world should be able to participate in the greatest races of the world."
The full Astana squad for Murcia is: Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Klöden, Chris Horner, Maxim Iglinsky, Toni Colom, Daniel Navarro and Janez Brajkovic.