Now that the Astana team has been granted a ProTour licence for next year, Alberto Contador is certain to remain with the Kazakh outfit to honour his last year of contract, but he may also change teams in the middle of the season if his Tour de France participation is in jeopardy.
The decision of the UCI licence commission puts a definite end to all speculation surrounding the multiple Grand Tour winner, who had already announced that he had reached an agreement to honour his last year of contract with the squad, "if the team retains its ProTour licence". This condition now being met, Contador is certain to ride for Astana next year, but further clauses have been added to his contract to guarantee his Tour de France participation come what may.
Francisco Contador, the brother and manager of the four-time Grand Tour winner, has revised his contract with the squad's new management, and added several loopholes to it in order for Alberto to be absolutely certain not to miss his biggest goal: the 2010 Tour de France.
According to the agreement, the Spaniard is free to leave Astana immediately if a doping case arises within the team during the 2010 season. Also, if the squad does not participate in the French Grand Tour for whatever reason, Contador is permitted to go to another outfit.
The UCI announced that it awarded the Astana team another ProTour licence for one year, which should be the key to certain Tour de France participation. The team, which saw most of its management and riders follow the call of Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel to RadioShack after this year's Tour de France, re-structured itself around its new directors, Yvon Sanquer and Giuseppe Martinelli. This should also convince Tour organiser ASO of its seriousness.
Astana remains however sponsored by Kazakhstan's Samruk-Kazyna, a company managing government-owned assets, whose deputy head, Timur Kulibayev, is also the son-in-law of the country's president. Kulibayev was moreover named chairman of the Kazakh cycling federation last week.
The UCI has announced that it expected Samruk-Kazyna to pay "an additional bank guarantee so that the regrettable situation in 2009 would not be repeated and so that the request for the withdrawal of the Astana licence would not have to be reactivated."
After many of the team's most prominent riders and staff left to RadioShack, Contador will be counting on his countrymen Benjamin Noval, David De La Fuente and Jésus Hernandez, Italy's Paolo Tiralongo and Enrico Gasparotto, as well as Alexander Vinokourov, himself a former Tour contender. But it is not known yet if Vinoukourov, back from a suspension for blood doping, will be at Contador's side during the season's greatest stage race.
Vinokourov himself has already announced that he will "aim for the top honours at the Giro, and try to win stages at the Tour de France" while helping his team-mate to the overall win in Paris.
It is not known whether ASO will allow 'Vino' to compete. His positive test for blood doping during the 2007 Tour may still be a reason for ASO to exclude the rider from the 2010 event.
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