By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2004
Spain’s world road race champion Igor Astarloa could be set to leave Cofidis after he was told Wednesday he can leave the embattled French outfit, who have suspended all racing amid a doping investigation, if he wants.
“If he wants to join another team we’ll let him go,” said the manager of France’s top cycling team, Alain Bondue.
Bondue added that 28-year-old Astarloa, who was recruited from the Italian Saeco team at the end of last season before winning the world title in Canada in October, had not requested a move. It has been reported however that other teams have made the Spaniard offers.
“He’s the reigning world champion,” Bondue said “He’s just arrived on this team and we don’t want him to pay the consequences for what’s happened in the past here. Igor sent us a text message to tell us he was standing behind us.”
Cofidis president Francois Migraine on Friday announced that the team would be suspended from all racing while an investigation into alleged doping among several former and current riders is held.
The decision meant that another of the team’s reigning champions, Britain’s David Millar – who won the time trial title in Canada – was prevented from competing in his World Cup track debut at Manchester on Saturday.
Millar, accused of doping by former Cofidis rider Philippe Gaumont, has expressed his solidarity with the team’s efforts to restart with a clean slate.
Despite Astarloa’s apparent solidarity, the fact that he is being deprived of three one-day classics which he could realistically win could take its toll.
Cofidis did not ride last weekend’s Paris-Roubaix and will miss this weekend’s fourth World Cup leg, the the Amstel Gold Race. Astarloa will also miss next week’s Fleche Wallonne – which he won last year – and the following weekend’s Liège–Bastogne-Liège, all three of which were major objectives for him this season.
Bondue meanwhile does not know when the team will get back to the start line.
“The start of May is the rumor going around. But that would be an ideal scenario,” said the Frenchman.
“I prefer to be pragmatic: we have to take our time and do things right. I have to propose to the sponsor (Cofidis) measures which will guarantee that there are no doubts as regards to doping within our team.”
Bondue admitted that Friday’s decision had come as a wake-up call.
“It made everybody sit up and realize the gravity of the situation,” he said. “It’s the team’s survival which is at stake.”
Cofidis also has three Olympic track athletes on its roster – Mickael Bourgain, world champion Laurent Gane and kilometer world record holder Arnaud Tournant – but Bondue said they were not included in the suspension.
All three athletes are expected to compete for France at the Athens Olympic Games this August.