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Barred from top events, Astana reshuffles schedule

Excluded from such races as the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, Team Astana is adjusting its European calendar to make the best of a bad situation. Instead of defending Alberto Contador’s title at Paris-Nice in March, the beleaguered team is bringing an all-star cast to the otherwise-modest Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia (March 4-8) in Spain as part of a major reshuffling of its racing schedule.

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Contador to lead ‘super team’ at Murcia

By Andrew Hood

Contador is forced to rethink his plans for 2008

Contador is forced to rethink his plans for 2008

Photo: Agence France Presse

Excluded from such races as the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, Team Astana is adjusting its European calendar to make the best of a bad situation.

Instead of defending Alberto Contador’s title at Paris-Nice in March, the beleaguered team is bringing an all-star cast to the otherwise-modest Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia (March 4-8) in Spain as part of a major reshuffling of its racing schedule.

Race organizers confirmed Monday that defending Paris-Nice and Tour champion Contador will start and could be joined by Levi Leipheimer. Team officials said that Andreas Klöden won’t be racing in Spain and instead will head to the Tour of the Algarve later this week.

The team had planned to defend Contador’s overall title at Paris-Nice with a strong roster that would have included Leipheimer. Those plans were scuttled when ASO announced last week that Astana will be excluded from all events it organizes on the international calendar.

The changes are already reflected on the team’s official web page. Instead of listing the Tour in the team’s racing schedule, for example, only the Tour of Austria and the Tour de Wallonie are part of the team’s July plans.

The team’s star riders are still trying to come to terms with last week’s controversial verdict to keep Astana out of all events organized by the Amaury Sports Organization, including such marquee races as Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Criterium International and Paris-Tours.

Both Leipheimer and Contador have strongly refused suggestions by ASO that they could race in the 2008 Tour if they switched to another team.

Contador, speaking to reporters ahead of the Laureus awards in St. Petersburg, said he has no plans to change squads.

“The Astana team doesn’t come from the ashes of Manolo Saiz and it has nothing to do with what happened last year with [Alexander] Vinokourov,” Contador said. “I want to race the Tour, but this would require me to forget about my team. I am not going to leave behind the people that worked around me.”

Contador also hinted that he would like to see Spanish politicians, led by national sports czar Jaime Lissavetzky, press Tour officials to reverse their decision to exclude the team.

Leipheimer is taking his fight to the people

Leipheimer is taking his fight to the people

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Leipheimer, meanwhile, is seeing strong support from fans. More than 7200 have already signed an online petition on the web site www.letleviride.com to encourage Tour officials to change their minds.

“When I saw the Tour de France on TV when I was young, I knew that someday I wanted to do that race. I sacrificed my life to participate,” Leipheimer said on the web page. “After finishing on the podium last year, I want to do even better. Now I’m a victim of an illogical decision and have been excluded from the race.”

Klöden, meanwhile, looks likely to defend his title at Tirreno-Adriatico. Race organizer RCS has left the team out of the Giro, but is allowing it to race in other events it promotes, such as Tirreno and Milan-San Remo.

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