By Andrew Hood
Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador denied rumors Friday he was preparing to jump ship to defend his title in July with another team.
Moments after securing the overall title at the Vuelta a Castilla y León on Friday’s fifth and final stage, Contador told reporters he won’t change teams to race the Tour even though Astana has been denied entry into the race.
“I won’t race the Tour with a team that’s not Astana. I hope that I can put an end to all these speculations and rumors that saw I will go to another team,” said Contador, who secured a 38-second victory to Mauricio Soler (Barloworld). “I want to be with my friends, with my team, and I only will race (the Tour) with them.”
Astana general manager Johan Bruyneel said the team is already looking ahead to the 2009 Tour without forgetting the rest of the 2008 season.
“He won’t race with another team, so goodbye to the speculation,” Bruyneel told Spanish reporters. “We will look to the 2009 Tour and we will construct a project around Levi and Alberto and the other great riders that are part of Astana.”
Bruyneel, who won seven Tours with Lance Armstrong and one with Contador, said the team has turned the page and will focus on making the most of the 2008 season.
“I am convinced that we can make a great season, even though we won’t be racing the Tour. I see the team working well together and I am sure will do it well,” he said. “The team worked well to keep Contador in the leader’s jersey, even though it was a hard 630km. It leaves me with the impression that it was a very hard race.”
Speculation was growing this week in Spain as Contador looked unbeatable in the five-day Castilla y Léon race, which he won for a second straight time after finishing in a lead group of 50 riders in Friday’s final stage.
Contador won the opening time trial Monday and fended off Soler, last year’s best climber at the Tour, to win Thursday’s decisive summit finish.
Koldo Fernández (Euskatel-Euskadi) won Friday’s final stage as Levi Leipheimer (Astana) claimed fourth overall at 1:09 back and Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream-Chipotle) slotted in for 10th at 1:55 back.
Tour organizers last week confirmed that Astana would be kept out when they released the official list of 20 teams invited to cycling’s marquee race.
Tour officials said that the team would not be welcomed back to its races after a string of doping scandals, which included two high-profile cases last summer with Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin.
Contador, who won the Tour last year with Discovery Channel, said he’s sticking with his teammates at Astana rather than take an offer to join another team to race the Tour. Rumors linked Contador to a move to Caisse d’Epargne, but officials from that team also denied the story.