Vuelta a España director-general Javier Guillén has defended his organisation's final six selections for the third grand tour of the season, which saw the surprising omission of Team RadioShack. Speaking to Biciclismo.com, Guillén insisted that "the six invitations we handed out took into account the interest of the race and cycling".
Asked specifically about the decision not to select RadioShack, Guillén said, "Leaving out three teams like RadioShack, Vacansoleil and Skil-Shimano is hard; those three teams could very well have made it into the Vuelta. I am not saying that those that we have selected are better or worse than those that were left out. If one of the 16 teams that were guaranteed places had dropped out, one of these three teams would have had a place. We made our selections based on certain criteria and of course we can make mistakes."
Pressed on whether RadioShack boss Johan Bruyneel had given him assurances that the likes of Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Klöden, Chris Horner, Janez Brajkovic and Haimar Zubeldia would be in the team's Vuelta line-up, Guillén said, "I can't deny they were on the list. He sent me details of starters and reserves."
Adding fire to suggestions that other issues may have come into play when selections were made, Guillén also said, "It was when we were analyzing the wider sporting implications of the selections that we settled on the six teams that were given invites. Whether some of the teams are better than others is a discussion that I'm not willing to get into."
Guillén pointed out that his hand was limited by the 16 pre-selections required by an agreement signed in 2008. This system finishes at the end of this season and in 2011 will be replaced by one that will see the top 17 teams in the world rankings guaranteed places in major events.
Guillén did offer a glimmer of hope to the teams that missed out on selection for the Vuelta. "We are sending out the registration details to the teams and they have to get them back to us by a set time. If any of them fail to do so we will regard this as a declaration that they don't want to ride, although this is something that I can't see happening at the moment, or least I've got no knowledge of it potentially doing so."
Asked if Cervélo had guaranteed the presence of Carlos Sastre at the Vuelta, which Guillén had previously insisted they must do to earn an invitation, Guillén said, "I was clear with Cervélo; the presence of Sastre is very important and there is an understanding with the team that he will be at the Vuelta with their best riders. Now it's all down to the rider himself. At the moment, we don't know if he will ride the Tour and if he does ride it we will have to see how he is when he finishes it."
Then quizzed on the selections of Garmin, Katusha and Sky, the Vuelta boss said, "Garmin will come with the best team they have, with Vande Velde and Farrar, and I can't forget that last year they won three stages. Katusha weren't at the 2009 race but the Vuelta is a goal for them this year and they will come with a strong team, notably featuring Purito Rodríguez.
"Sky is a new team with a great long-term project and the Vuelta is one of their goals. The criteria for choosing the six teams was focused very much on the sporting implications and we had a very strong commitment from all of them that they would be aiming to compete right from the first day, and I'm confident that will be the case."