"I think this is the right road for cycling"
By Gregor Brown
The Italian cycling federation (FCI) President Renato Di Rocco gave his support for ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) decision not to invite Team Astana to its races, including the Tour de France. The 2007 French Grand Tour was won by Alberto Contador while racing for Johan Bruyneel at Discovery Channel; however, the two now are associated with Team Astana, which had its share of trouble in 2007.
"I think this is the right road for cycling," said Di Rocco to Cyclingnews. "It is not right to continue with a cycling where the teams are selected in base of [ProTour] licenses, and, above all, you have to show that the criteria to give licenses are the wrong criteria."
Team Astana is one of 18 teams with a ProTour license, which Bruyneel took advantage of when Discovery Channel decided to stop sponsoring. He brought his staff over to the Kazakhstan-sponsored, Luxembourg-licensed team, which was enough to convince the International Cycling Union (UCI) last December to allow the Astana-named team to keep is license despite the 2007-related doping cases and the problems of 2006 with Liberty Seguros-Würth – the forerunner for Team Astana.
"The ProTour sells these licenses to race in the ProTour races, and this criterion is not correct. Astana should have already been suspended last year," reckoned Di Rocco while at home in Rome. He then alluded to possible problems for other teams. "Astana had cases of doping, but there are other teams that will not make it to the end of the year – I think."
In January, Di Rocco and other countries' representatives met with the UCI in Treviso, Italy, to discuss a new 'special calendar' for all races owned by the Grand Tours (Tour, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España). Part of the outcome of this meeting was that none of these 'special calendar' races, except for the Tour, would be obliged to invite all 18 ProTour teams.
"The Vuelta and Giro were already free to select [how they wish], but the UCI said that the Tour and all of the ProTour races had to select the 18 ProTour teams. The Tour was obliged to select 18 teams, but instead they are not taking Astana," honestly noted Di Rocco.
It appears that the 2008 Tour, like the 2007 Giro, will be run without its defending champion, and from Di Rocco's viewpoint this is fine since he believes the issue at stake is more of team licensing. "It happened in the past at the Tour as well," he said when it was pointed out that the 2007 Giro lacked defending champion Ivan Basso. The Italian was forbidden to race due to a doping suspension, but in this case ASO chose not to select the team of the defending champion for the Tour. "And it was a good choice in my opinion."