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By Andrew Hood
A defiant Alberto Contador promises to return victorious to the Tour de France in 2009.
Stunned by Wednesday’s announcement by Tour-organizer ASO to exclude his Astana team from all of its races, Contador put on a brave face on the harsh reality that cycling’s marquee race won’t be part of his July plans.
“I will come back to the Tour next year more determined than ever to win,” Contador told journalists before departing Mallorca on Thursday afternoon. “I still don’t agree with the decision, but the season is not completely lost. I have to re-plan my season and set new goals.”
Contador also strongly shot down the suggestion by Tour officials that he could switch teams and still defend his Tour title.
“I will not change teams to race the Tour,” he said. “I have a responsibility to this team. This is my team now and I am not going to leave my teammates because of this unfair decision.”
Contador, 25, admitted he’s still reeling from ASO’s controversial decision to exclude his team from the Tour and other races it organizes.
He skipped a planned start in Thursday’s final day of the Mallorca Challenge and instead went on a short training ride. He stayed hidden away in his hotel room until leaving to catch a flight back to Madrid.
Contador spoke with team manager Johan Bruyneel as well as family and friends to try to come to terms with the otherwise depressing news.
“I feel better now. It was such a shock yesterday, I just couldn’t accept it because it’s so unfair to me and the others on the team,” he said. “Now I will go home and reconsider what we can do to bring something out of this situation.”
Likely changes in his schedule include riding the Vuelta a Murcia instead of Paris-Nice in early March. He’ll also reconsider whether he will race as planned at the Dauphiné Libéré and instead target the Tour de Suisse.
A run at the Vuelta a España also seems likely as well as increased focus on the Summer Olympic Games as well as the world championships.
“I am in shock and I am very disappointed. Along with my friends, family and supporters, I can’t understand why we are not allowed to take part in the Tour and defend Alberto’s title with two other riders capable of winning, myself included,” Leipheimer said in a team communiqué. “We are all left wondering. I chose this team as it was a very new team, which I’ve already experienced. Of course I stand by my decision to join this new Astana team for 2008. In a sportive way we will fight back with the whole team. The many encouragements I already received today mean a lot to me.”
“I do not understand the world any longer,” a furious Klöden wrote on his website. “I was tested five or six times last year – always negatively. I am suffering because of the fact that others dope, get caught and we all get it in the neck.”