Not surprisingly, Astana team brass have reacted with disappointment after being left out of 2008 Giro d’Italia.
Astana was among four ProTour squads not issued invitations last week by Giro organizer RCS in a controversial decision that continues to ripple through the peloton.
In a team communiqué, Astana general manager Johan Bruyneel said the team will not make a formal complaint over the snub.
“The Giro direction has the freedom of choice. We regret that,” Bruyneel said. “Lodging a complaint will not help us. The coming weeks, we will prove that we still have our place in all big cycling events. Fortunately, my sponsors confirmed their unconditional support. With their support, we started building a new team in a clean environment. We will continue on that way. I hope, for cycling in general, that the sponsors on the other non-selected teams react in the same way.”
Giro director Angelo Zomegnan said the deciding factor wasn’t the team’s nefarious past, which included a two-year ban for last year’s third-place man Eddy Mazzoleni for links to the “Oil for Drugs” doping scandal, but rather what Giro organizers perceived as an unexciting team for the season’s first grand tour.
Neither Alberto Contador nor Levi Leipheimer were expected to race the Giro, two names race organizers said would be missing in the corsa rosa.
Astana, however, insisted it planned to bring a competitive squad to the Giro, headlined by rising prospect Janez Brakjovic and perhaps the presence of two-time Tour de France runner-up Andreas Klöden.
“I came last year to the Giro as sports director of a small CSC team. We surprised the world with Andy Schleck (who finished 2nd overall). I had the intention to motivate Jani Brajkovic in the same way I did with Schleck,” said Astana sport director Alain Gallopin. “At our training camp in Albuquerque, we had to the chance to discuss Andreas Klöden’s program. He (wanted) to participate in the Giro. That race fit perfectly in his planning. We never had the chance to discuss it with the Giro organizers. Just like riders as Paolo Bettini and Danilo Di Luca, Contador and Leipheimer cannot participate in every race in cycling.”
Gallopin said the team is motivated to show its worth in a string of high-profile events, citing planned starts at Mallorca, California, Algarve, Valencia, Het Volk, Kuurne, Murcia, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, Castilla y León, Harebeke and Criterium International.
“We will not pass unnoticed through these races,” he added.
Nonetheless, Zomegnan also hinted last week that the controversy which surrounded Astana throughout last year was a factor in his decision.
“Astana wasn’t exactly flawless last year,” he said. “Okay, they have changed philosophy, and their management but we have to wait and see. You don’t just wake up in the morning a changed person.”
No longer part of the ProTour, grand tour organizers may be exercising their new freedom by opting not to automatically invite all ProTour teams to their events. Astana was one of four ProTour squads left off of the Giro list. The result gives a number of smaller, and less well known teams – including the U.S.-based Slipstream squad – an unprecedented opportunity to shine.