Tour de France contender Levi Leipheimer is stepping up efforts to get his Astana team into the French Grand Tour this summer. Speaking at a press conference the day before the Tour of California prologue, the defending Tour of California champion and 2007 Tour de France third place finisher unveiled LetLeviRide.com, a grassroots campaign to appeal the Amaury Sport Organization's (ASO) recent decision to ban Astana, from participating in this summer's Tour de France or any other race organized by ASO including Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, and Paris-Tours.
"With LetLeviRide.com I'm not disputing the ASO's right to decide which teams it invites to the Tour and which teams it doesn't," said Leipheimer. "I'm drawing attention to the fact that this decision by the ASO is completely arbitrary and unjust. I had nothing to do with Astana prior to joining the team this year. There are many other teams with tainted pasts that haven't changed management or structure like the new Astana has, yet Astana is singled out and excluded."
"Where's the consistency?" asked Leipheimer. "By taking action now it looks political. It looks like the ASO has a grudge against a team that can win its races. My hope is that this campaign will encourage the ASO to reconsider its decision."
ASO cited doping scandals from last two years and commented on the "damages that this [Astana] team has done to the Tour de France and to cycling in general."
"That the happenings of last year prompted the Tour organizers to leave Astana out of the season's most important race sounds understandable," said Team Director Johan Bruyneel. "However, Astana Cycling Team 2008 has nothing to do with the team of last year. We have done everything to change the dynamics of the team. New management, new riders, new philosophy. Only the name of the sponsor remained."
Although the ASO said earlier this week that it had recognized changes in management, it said only that it would follow Astana's efforts to stay free of negative affairs in 2008 before considering it again for inclusion in future editions of ASO races.
"I've trained my whole life to race the Tour," said a disappointed Leipheimer. "It's my dream to win the Tour de France; it's my life long goal."
Visitors to LetLeviRide.com have an opportunity to pledge their support for Leipheimer and add their name to a petition directed at the ASO.