By Shane Stokes
The past week has seen two big stories in cycling, namely ASO's rejection of Astana for its races - including the Tour de France - and also the news that the Operación Puerto investigation is to be reopened. As regards the former, UCI president Pat McQuaid has described the decision as 'insular' and 'a decision of monumental folly', while he is cautiously optimistic about the latter.
"Looking at this latest situation with Astana, there is absolutely no justification for the decision that was made," he told Cyclingnews this week. "This was a decision made in France by a French organisation purely for the French public. When you see the reaction in France, the reaction to this decision is positive there. For example, if you look at the Internet sites and the blogs of the French media, you will see that they are largely supportive of the decision. But outside France it is completely the opposite. Outside France, the international cycling public have a completely different view. They cannot understand why Astana should be singled out as the team who did so much damage to the Tour de France...everybody knows that there were four or five other teams who badly damaged the Tour last year."
McQuaid cited the Cyclingnews letters page as an example of this anger with ASO over its decision.
"Why should Astana be singled out?" he continued. "It is completely unjust. It is a collective punishment on riders who have absolutely no involvement in the Astana team of 2006 and the problems of 2006 and 2007. These riders are new to the team, there is a new management, and they have done everything in their power to put the right systems in place to ensure that the team is 100% correct. They are part of the biological passport programme, the same as every other team in these events."
In addition to that, Astana are paying what the team claims is €460,000 to Dr Rasmus Damsgard for him to implement his independent anti-doping programme. It means that this season, it has a stronger anti-doping policy than many other teams in the ProTour. McQuaid said that he has sympathy for the riders concerned, who are missing out on the chance to ride the Tour de France despite not being linked to doping.
"The problem to my mind is that the people who made this decision are not cyclists, they have never been cyclists. They don't understand, for instance, the hours and the work and the dreams of people like Alberto Contador, the amount of effort which he puts into trying to win the Tour de France. They don't understand that Levi Leipheimer, who was on the podium of the Tour de France last year, has probably spent every waking minute thinking of the Tour de France and of getting to a higher point on the podium.
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