Alexandre Vinokourov, team leader of the new ProTour squad Astana-Würth, has criticised the Tour de France organiser's decision of not wanting his team to participate in the race. "It's not normal," the Kazakhstan said. "There is no proof against the team." Spanish newspaper El País had published information allegedly taken from the current Operación Puerto investigation, according to which 15 riders of the said team had ties to a large scale blood and drug doping network.
Vinokourov, who is one of the favourites for the general classification at the Tour de France, continued by saying that the newspaper only reported that there were "suspicions" of doping against these riders, not proof. "The press might as well decide on general classification," he added. "Lance Armstrong has also been named [in relation to doping - ed.] in the press in the past, and this has never prevented him from riding the Tour de France."
Whether or not Astana-Würth will start the "Grande Boucle" on Saturday will now by decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The hearing is reported to take place on Thursday afternoon, with a final ruling expected on Friday morning. "I hope that the CAS will take the right decision and that we will be at the start on Saturday," said Vinokourov, who, along with his teammates, will undergo the usual medical check-up on Friday if they are allowed to start. "It's not very good to prepare yourself under these circumstances, but the most important thing is that we are here now. If we can take the start, our morale will get better from day to day."
CAS ruling: A question of image
In the hearing in front of the CAS on Thursday, ASO representative Jacques Nataf will, according to L'Equipe, insist on two points to get the approval of the highest instance for sports matters. Firstly, the attorney will reiterate that the Tour de France is a major event and secondly, that there is a high risk of deterioration of the event's image if the former team Liberty Seguros is allowed to start, since there have been repeated revelations about the team this last month.
Nataf will base its argumentation on Article 28 of the Tour de France rules, which states, "An organiser has the right to refuse a team or a member of a team whose presence is susceptible of blemishing the image of cycling, of the organiser or of the race." This regulation is slightly different to the UCI article 2.6.036, according to which "a licence holder or a team may be excluded from a race if he/it seriously blemishes the image of cycling or of the race", in that persons even susceptible of tainting the image of the event may be refused.
But the UCI will not take part in the legal procedure opposing ASO and Active Bay in any case. "The event organiser is the only one concerned," Professional Cycling Manager Alain Rumpf said. "We are not a party in this case in the sense that the Tour de France does not have a ProTour licence and that we have organised a procedure that stands on both of our regulations."
The lawyer of the managing company of Astana-Würth - still 51 percent owned by former team manager Manolo Saiz - is meanwhile expected to base his defense on the presumption of innocence of the team.