The Astaná-Würth cycling team of Alexandre Vinokourov will not take part in the Tour de France due to the fact that five of the team’s nine Tour riders have been implicated in the ongoing doping probe in Spain.
While Tour officials have not yet made an official statement, a revised race roster was issued late Friday evening and the Astaná-Würth team was not included. The team’s management firm later issued a statement saying it decided to pull the entire team after learning that the bulk of the squad was implicated in the scandal.
That means the 93rd edition of the Tour will start with 20 teams instead of 21.
Astaná team leader Vinokourov becomes the fourth rider from last year’s top five finishers to be pulled out following the earlier team suspensions of Ivan Basso (CSC), Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Francisco Mancebo (Ag2r). Last year’s winner, Lance Armstrong, retired from the sport after seven straight Tour wins, meaning that Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer will be the top finisher from last year’s race.
Basso, Ullrich and Mancebo all feature on a list of a reported 58 riders who are suspected of being involved in blood doping; all were suspended by their respective teams on Friday.
Prior to Friday’s revelations, Astaná-Würth had successfully fought its way back into the Tour, winning a favorable decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in its effort to reverse an earlier decision by Tour organizers to exclude the team.
Early on Friday the Spanish press published a long list of the riders who are suspected of being involved in a blood doping network.
Of the nine Astana riders on that list, only two were set to start the Tour – Isidro Nozal and Joseba Beloki.
However, later Friday cycling’s world ruling body, the UCI, issued an official statement with a list of Tour riders “suspected of being involved” in the recent doping probe, based on files submitted to the organization by Spanish investigators. That list included names not mentioned in media accounts and may have spelled the end for Astaná-Würth’s already-fading Tour hopes.
The UCI list did include both Nozal and Beloki, but also named their teammates Allan Davis, Sergio Paulinho and Alberto Contador.
The team’s management firm, founded by former team director Manolo Sáiz, conceded that it had little choice but to pull the team, adding that the remaining four riders were not under suspicion.
“The measure we have taken does not affect the riders who have come to the Tour de France and who are not concerned by this dossier: Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Carlos Barredo and Luis Leon Sanchez.”
While Vinokourov and the three others were not implicated, Tour rules do require that teams start the race with a minimum of six riders. Astaná-Würth lost five riders in Friday’s shake-up, leaving the squad with only four starters.