Astana team banned last year in doping investigation

PARIS -- The Astana team was granted entry to this year's Tour de France on Wednesday, a year after it was banned from cycling's biggest race in a doping investigation.

The Barloworld and Agritubel teams were also given wild-card berths, joining the 18 ProTour teams that had already qualified for the three-week race. A total of 189 riders will compete in this year's Tour, which begins July 7 in London.

Swiss-based Astana features Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov, winner of the Spanish Vuelta last year. The team was forced to pull out of the Tour last year because five team riders other than Vinokourov were linked to the Spanish doping investigation
Operation Puerto.

The selections Wednesday by the Amaury Sports Organization, which runs the Tour, excluded Belgium-Swedish team Unibet.com, whose bid to participate stirred a political dispute.

Amaury barred the team because its sponsor is an online gambling sponsor that is not registered in France. French law forbids foreign betting companies from advertising in France.

The European Union criticized the treatment of the Unibet.com team.