Astana won't be able to do too many races this year, following their exclusion from ASO and RCS races. One unlikely place where they will be welcomed is the Deutschland Tour, which did not care for them last year. Tour organiser Kai Rapp explained in an interview to radsport-aktiv.de that the times have changed. He is ready to invite all 18 ProTour teams. "Last year they followed the rules by stopping their competition. At the time we had the team in high regards for doing such a step, which juristically was not required." Rapp added that in 2008 there is a new situation that has to be evaluated. "We discussed Astana with the UCI in October. Later, the team management was substituted. And the whole team is doing a self-financed anti-doping programme....Astana is under strong surveillance and there are no more 'Men in Black' riding."
Rapp could understand why the Giro and the Tour do not want Astana to ride. "Anybody who is aware of the fight between the UCI and the organisers of the Grand Tours does understand. It is obvious that the non-invite cannot be explained with the experiences from last year alone. Otherwise, there would be very different consequences, especially by the Giro." Rapp is not afraid of political pressure, even though the French company that bought the Deutschland Tour last year has some stakes in ASO as well.
Rapp clarified that there was no general feeling of not wanting the Elk Haus Simplon team last year. "They just didn't fulfil some of the criteria that other teams did fulfil." Rapp pointed out that this year things are more organised and the UCI has put some firm requirements in place. One of them is the biological passport programme. "As far as I know Elk Haus wants to participate in that programme. That is a welcome learning process."
Rapp added that just like last year, only riders and teams will be allowed to race in the 2008 edition that do "not damage the image of the race and the interests of the sponsors," as well as the image of the stage towns and the broadcasting TV channels. As for how to do that he did not want to reveal too much, in order to not damage the programme.
Right now, there are applications from ten teams for this year's race. How many there will be in the end will be depending on the wild card system through the UCI. The route will be announced end of March. The only thing Rapp revealed is that Neuss will be a stage town and also the name of the anti-doping measures to catch cheaters, the so-called "Neusser Modell." Details on that program, which was developed through feedback from fans, sponsors, anti-doping experts and others, will be revealed later.
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