With speculation running high that the Tour de France will follow the lead taken by the Giro d’Italia and leave Astana sidelined for the 2008 edition, defending Tour champ Alberto Contador says he’s already making alternative plans.
Contador, set to make his season debut Sunday at the Mallorca Challenge in Spain, said he would look toward other goals if Tour organizers overlook Astana when it issues invitations in the coming weeks.
“If they don’t invite us I will focus on other objectives. I have a ‘plan B’ if the Tour doesn’t want me,” Contador told Spanish sports daily MARCA. “I’d like to race the Tour, but if they don’t let me do it, I will prepare for the Olympic Games, which has a difficult course and at least in the time trial I could aspire for a medal. Then there’s the Vuelta a España, which is my home race.”
Contador and the rest of the Astana team are reeling following last week’s decision by Giro organizers to snub the team when it issued invitations to the Italian grand tour.
Astana was given the cold-shoulder by the Italians, along with High Road, Crédit Agricole and Bouygues Telecom, in what’s seen as a major blow to 18 ProTour teams hoping to race in the season’s major events.
For Contador, the Giro rebuff was a warning shot that the Tour might follow suit and leave the team on the sidelines in 2008 despite an off-season overhaul of team management.
“It’s obvious that I have to plan for the possibility that they won’t invite us to the Tour as well,” he said. “It’s on my mind, even though right now I am still planning my season around being ready for July.”
Officials from ASO, the parent company of the Tour, so far have remained mum about which teams might be invited to the 2008 Tour.
The UCI is hoping all 18 ProTour teams will see Tour berths, but race director Christian Prudhomme told VeloNews last week that nothing was set in stone.
“Nothing is certain. We are still studying the situation with the UCI, with the status of the races designed as historical interest and what this means to us. We will not make any decisions for at least several weeks,” Pruhomme said. “What’s sure is that teams will have to meet certain criteria such as a commitment to clean racing and a strong sporting desire. Between January and July, a lot can happen.”
Pruhomme admitted that Astana’s doping problems from 2007, when team leaders Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin both tested positive for homologous blood doping, don’t help their cause. He was quick to add he “nothing against Contador.”
Prudhomme didn’t seem to be in any hurry to release Tour invitations and hinted that they would like to wait and see how the opening months of the 2008 season unfold.
All eyes now will be looking closely at February. 13, when invitations to the 2008 Paris-Nice will be announced.
Invites to the season’s first major stage race typically reveal which teams are in favor of the powerful race organizer ASO, which own Paris-Nice and the Tour.
As defending champion at Paris-Nice, Contador can only hope that he will get the chance to line up for the Race to the Sun.