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Astana vs. ASO

The war of words goes on... Astana celebrated their team launch in Albuquerque yesterday (a fine choice, especially for a team that wears turquoise) by declaring their fitness for the upcoming year and especially the Tour de France. Thus far, Bruyneel's outfit is officially taking the high road and not acknowledging any potential controversy over their fitness for and place in the 2008 Tour. Rather, their case is built on the inclusion of two podium finishers, lack of ties to the old Astana, and hopefully a strong spring campaign.

The CN version of the story has JB claiming reports of ASO's intent to exclude the team of Alberto Contador are just unconfirmed rumors. One paragraph later, CN quotes Christian Prudhomme of ASO stating that they officially reject the UCI's insistence that all 18 Pro Tour teams get an invite -- a new but utterly unsurprising development. And late last week Prudhomme would neither confirm nor deny that the teams of Contador and Valverde would get invites.

Astana's situation is doubly confusing -- ASO would presumably dispute that they are even a Pro Tour team, at least under the original conception. Perhaps that's moot to them now, but even if they acceded to inviting the Pro Tour, they might still bar Astana. Last year Astana were merely given a wildcard selection, a peaceful solution that eventually blew up in ASO's face: their chief complaint about last year is that the Rasmussen ugliness was foisted on them by lax ASO oversight of Pro Tour teams. Had ASO accepted Astana as a Pro Tour squad, the homologous blood from that affair would also have all been on the UCI's hands... but I digress.

The point is, Astana want in on the Tour, either by right or might. Unfortunately, ASO is questioning their right, and with invites due out in less than two weeks there's no time for a demonstration of might. Nor is there time for Alberto Contador to pursue closure in his OP case. Barring further agreement with the UCI, the place of the defending Tour winner will be in the capricious hands of ASO.