By Andrew Hood
The rumors keep flying, but Astana officials insist they are not expecting a last-minute reversal from Tour de France officials to start this year’s race.
Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel said he isn’t anticipating the Tour to follow the recent example of the Giro d’Italia, and said the team is already looking past the Tour for this season.
“The Tour has been pretty clear. Straight after the Giro, they said that they are remaining with their initial decision,” Bruyneel told VeloNews. “We’re definitely not counting on it.”
Bruyneel said the final-hour decision to invite Astana to the Giro arouse from different circumstances surrounding the decision by Tour organizers to exclude the team.
Once Astana assembled its team with barely a week’s notice, Alberto Contador delivered one of the most unlikely grand tour victories in years to become the first non-Italian winner since 1996.
“I knew for awhile that the Giro was an option. They never made any statements that it was absolutely against the team. The Tour did, so we’ll have to live with that,” Bruyneel said. “We’re not thinking about the Tour, but then again, we weren’t thinking about the Giro either.”
Tour officials say Astana is being kept out of this year’s race due to doping scandals that plagued the team for the past two years and Tour director Christian Prudhomme repeated last week that that decision won’t overturned.
Prudhomme hinted that the team will be welcomed back next year if there are no more problems with the team.
While it’s a bitter disappointment for riders such as defending champ Contador and Tour podium finishers Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, Bruyneel said the team has decided to make the most of the races it is welcomed to.
“My two goals this year were to put the team back on the right track, because structurally the team was a mess and I wanted to get the team back together and build for the future. We’ve done that,” Bruyneel said. “My other main challenge was not so much the results, because I knew that the results would come, but more than that, I wanted to work on getting the image back to where it belongs. I’m pleasantly surprised, from where we were to where we are now.”
Contador, meanwhile, already said he wouldn’t be in condition to race the Tour even if organizers changed their minds.
“I’m super-content that the Tour didn’t invite me this year because now I have a Giro on my palmares and now I am going to race the Vuelta with the intention of winning,” Contador said Monday during an interview with Eurosport. “The Giro, particularly, is a race I probably wouldn’t have raced for many years, because July is always the main focus of the season.”
Contador said he’ll take a short break before resuming training in July and return to competition at the Clásica San Sebástian in early August. He’s still hoping to race the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing before an assault on the Vuelta.
Only four riders have won all three of cycling’s major three-week tours and Contador could become the rider to achieve all three victories in the shortest amount of time if he can pull off a win during September’s Spanish tour.
“We’ll have to speak with the (Spanish cycling federation) to discuss what the best plan is for Beijing,” he said. “What I want to do is return to Spain in the best possible condition to race the Vuelta.”
Contador also said he hoped his Astana teammate, Leipheimer, can hold on to win the Dauphiné Libéré.
“Levi is mentally prepared to race well in this Dauphiné. I’d like to see him win, what he did (Sunday) was incredible, considering after the big effort he spent helping me at the Giro, to be able to come to the Dauphiné is impressive,” he said. “There will be some other riders who will be fresher than him, such as Evans or Valverde. But Levi is a strong competitor. He surprised me because he said he was tired after the Giro, but he’s such a great professional, if anyone can do it, he can.”