On February 13, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) barred Team Astana from competing in any race or event organized by the ASO in 2008, which includes Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours and the Tour de France. The ASO cited the doping scandals of last year’s Tour de France as justification.
Yet, there's no comparison between the 2007 Astana team and the new Astana. The entire organizational structure has been rebuilt under the direction of the new general manager, Johan Bruyneel, who has thoroughly cleaned house. What’s more, Astana has adopted the rigorous doping controls developed by anti-doping expert Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, and Astana now spends more money on anti-doping controls than any other pro team.
“That the happenings of last year… prompted the Tour organizers to leave Astana out of the season’s most important races sounds understandable,” notes Bruyneel. “However, the 2008 Astana has nothing to do with the team of last year. We've done everything to change the dynamics of the team, new management, new riders, new philosophy, only the name of the sponsor remains.”
But, the ASO has turned a blind eye to Johan’s efforts. By barring the entire team outstanding athletes like Levi Leipheimer, who was not a member of last year’s Astana team and who has never been implicated in any doping affair, are forced to sit on the sidelines while their life’s work passes them by.
“When I saw the Tour de France on TV when I was young,” laments Leipheimer, “I knew that someday I wanted to do that race. I sacrificed my life to participate. 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."
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