One day after the controversial announcement of not inviting team Astana to any of the races owned by French company ASO, including the Tour de France, race director Christian Prudhomme explained the decision to news agency AFP. The Frenchman regretted that the 2007 winner of the event, Astana's Alberto Contador, may not be able to defend his title if he remains with the outfit, but said that the decision was taken to protect the Tour de France from being discredited once again.
"We cannot wipe away what happened these last two years," Prudhomme explained. "We don't have the right to have a short memory. In 2006, a team came out of the ashes of Liberty Seguros. Within this team, half of the riders were linked to Operación Puerto and cannot take the start of the Tour. The next year, they explain to us that it's a new team, a new management, that everything about it is new. We trust them and invite them to the Tour. But we made a mistake to take them – and we don't want to make that mistake once again."
The Tour de France director made it clear that the "new" Astana managed by Johan Bruyneel had prove its good faith first before getting an entry into ASO's races again. "This year, it's a 'new' team for the second time, and they tell us the same as last year: 'We don't have anything to do with the past'. Which is true... but you can't erase the past like this. Everything they announced for 2008, the new (anti-doping) measures, the internal controls, etc. – that's very good. We want these measures to work, too. If they do, we will see the team in our competitions again a bit later. But not this season."
Speaking to L'Equipe, he added that "the idea (behind this decision) is not 'Never again Astana', it is 'Never again 2007!"
Asked why ASO decided to exclude the Kazakh-sponsored squad, but not the team High Road (former T-Mobile), which also harmed the Tour de France last year with Patrik Sinkewitz' positive doping test for testosterone, Prudhomme replied, "That is not the same situation. The Sinkewitz affair was before the Tour [the rider was found positive at a team training camp on June 8 - ed.]. If everybody would have wanted to protect the Tour, then we would have known his test result before the start of the race. With the AFLD (French anti-doping agency), we would have known the results in time and Sinkewitz would not have started. We paid dearly for something that happened before the Tour. The fault lies within those six weeks, where we don't know (what happened)."
French team Cofidis also had a doping case during the last Tour de France with Cristian Moreni. "That's true," Prudhomme commented, "but Cofidis left (the Tour) straight away, without us asking them to do so."
Speaking to Dutch AD, Prudhomme added that ASO had also pondered the exclusion of Rabobank, which made headlines last July with overall leader Michael Rasmussen being withdrawn from the race for having lied about his whereabouts and missed doping controls. "We hesitated, but came to the conclusion that it was Rasmussen and his boss [Theo De Rooy - ed.] that harmed the Tour, and not the sponsor," he said. "They made the decision to pull him out of the race a bit late, but they did. The sponsor made that gesture even if there wasn't a positive control. Today, Rasmussen is suing them for having been sacked without a reason."
Prudhomme added that the final team selection for the 2008 Tour de France was yet to come, and that ASO was determined to file a clean field in the race this year. "The Tour selection will be announced towards the end of this month. But it will be 'same cause, same effect'. If ever a team makes a mistake, the sanction will be the same. There is no margin for mistakes anymore."
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