By Gerard Knapp
It was actually the announcement of team invitations for the upcoming Paris-Nice stage race, to be held from March 9 - 16, 2008, that included the decision by ASO to not invite Astana to this race, and any other race it's organising in 2008. Astana's roster includes Alberto Contador, the defending champion of the 2007 Paris-Nice as well as the Tour de France.
ASO invited 20 teams to participate in Paris-Nice, and among these are the two American squads, Team High Road and Slipstream - Chipotle. Although High Road is listed as a German team by the ASO, it is actually registered in the USA and it was recently in the headlines as it appears to have missed the selection to the first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro d'Italia.
Earlier this year on February 2, the organisers of the Giro d'Italia, RCS SPort, announced the teams to race in the Giro, and it left out the ProTour teams Astana, High Road, Crédit Agricole and Bouygues Telecom. RCS said its decision was made difficult by a large number of requests for race entries, and it reviewed team histories (with particular regard to doping) as well as if the teams had put in a strong performance in previous editions of Italy's Grand Tour when formulating the invitations.
Of those four teams excluded from the Giro, it would seem that High Road remains in contention - among many other teams - to secure a start in the Tour de France, if ASO's decision on Wednesday is any indication of its preferences. High Road is the team formally known as T-Mobile, which is under new management.
However, in the 2007 Tour de France, a then T-Mobile rider, Patrik Sinkewitz, was expelled from his team and the 2007 Tour de France for returning a positive test for testosterone from an out of competition control in June. Another team invited to Paris-Nice is Rabobank, and this Dutch squad was also at the centre of the major controversy in last year's Tour de France when it sacked the then maillot jaune, Michael Rasmussen, for misleading his team over missed out-of-competition doping control tests.
The full list of teams to compete in the 2008 'race to the sun', Paris-Nice, includes: Quick Step and Silence - Lotto from Belgium, Denmark's Team CSC, Gerolsteiner, High Road and Team Milram from Germany, a host of French teams including Bouygues Telecom, Credit Agricole, Cofidis, Française Des Jeux, AG2R - La Mondiale and Agritubel; Lampre and Liquigas from Italy, Rabobank and Skil-Shimano from The Netherlands; Spain's Caisse d'Epargne, Euskaltel - Euskadi and Saunier Duval - Scott, and finally Slipstream Chipotle from the USA.
Of those 20 teams, three are not top-level ProTour teams, but Professional-Continental squads, Agritubel, Slipstream Chipotle and Skil-Shimano.