Astana may receive last minute Giro invitation

Astana did not receive an invitation to the 2008 Giro d'Italia with the rest of the selected teams in early February, but reports Saturday suggest that Giro d'Italia organizers RCS Sport may be about to invite the team to the this year's 91st edition of the Italian Grand Tour after all. The Giro d'Italia will start May 10 in Palermo and runs through June 1 with a finish in Milano.

"Astana remains a candidate to participate in the Giro," said Director Angelo Zomegnan to La Gazetta dello Sport. Organizers have said changes in the list of invited teams may be made up until just before the race, but they did not confirm or deny the inclusion of Team Astana.

"An official announcement will be made on Sunday evening. At this point it's a 50-50 affair," said Zomegnan to Reuters. "Talks are underway with Astana regarding their possible participation in the Giro. Astana sent their request to us a month ago with a different approach regarding the quality of riders to take part in the race. If Astana were accepted it would of course affect the lineup of invited teams we announced on February 1."

Astana officials confirmed that they are in process of getting GC contender and American Levi Leipheimer to Italy in time for the start. "It is a good moment for us," said Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens to the Associated Press. Reportedly, Leipheimer's team-mate and 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador will also be at the start in Sicily.

"We are hurrying now to arrange everything. We must have a truck and a bus down to Sicily - it is not the perfect preparation," Maertens said to the AP. "Levi was still in California and Alberto was on holiday in Spain because he had a dental operation two weeks ago. Everybody is happy."

From the Tour de Romandie, Astana's Andreas Klöden, who retained his yellow jersey with a margin of 35 seconds over Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) going into Sunday's final stage, was pleased with the news. "It's brilliant news and of course I'd volunteer to take part if it is confirmed," said Tour de France podium placer Kloeden to Reuters. "It's a big tour and I'm a big tour rider."

Following positive doping tests and a withdrawal from last year's Tour de France and despite structural management and rider changes to the team in between seasons, the squad was not invited to this year's Tour de France, or any ASO organized events for that matter. It is planning to race the Vuelta a España after the team was officially invited earlier this week when Unipublic announced the roster of squads for the September Grand Tour.

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