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UCI: Contador should be allowed to defend title

MADRID, Spain -- The International Cycling Union may take legal action against Tour de France organizers in a bid to overturn their decision to bar Alberto Contador from defending his title in July.

UCI president Pat McQuaid told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Tour organizer ASO took an "arbitrary, absurd decision" to exclude Contador's Astana team from the 2008 race following doping scandals in the past two years.

"We need to take action, which we'll do as a consequence of their decisions," McQuaid said in a telephone interview. "The reason goes completely against sport. ... There is no way that UCI can allow it.

"It's up to our legal department to study the situation and then begin discussions with ASO before action can be taken."

McQuaid said organizers of the three major cycling events -- which also includes the Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta -- were unfairly singling out Astana when other teams had also made doping headlines last year.

ASO announced last week that Astana has been banned from this year's showcase because of the "damage caused by this team to the Tour de France and cycling in general, both in 2006 and 2007. The Astana team last year betrayed the trust of organizers."

Contador won last year's Tour for the now-disbanded Discovery Channel team and has since joined Astana.

"The decision is completely arbitrary and selective," McQuaid said. "They give reasons of being concerned about the image of the Tour -- but everybody is concerned about the Tour, teams included. How can you have the best riders in the world not take part? It's a joke. It's absurd."

Astana was excluded from the 2006 Tour de France after being linked to Operation Puerto, a Spanish doping investigation.

The entire Astana team quit last year's Tour after Alexandre Vinokourov, a pre-race favorite, tested positive for a blood transfusion following his victory in the 13th stage time trial. Vinokourov's teammate, Andrey Kashechkin, also tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after the Tour.

Astana was subsequently barred from the Spanish Vuelta. It also has been denied admission to this year's Giro d'Italia.

All 18 Pro Tour teams have the right to race at the Tour, according to UCI rules.

The UCI and ASO, the organizers of the Tour de France, have been involved in a continuing power struggle over the future of professional cycling.

"I hope they see sense. They can't remain isolated in France as they are," McQuaid said.

McQuaid pointed to Astana's in-house clean-up as proof of the team's intentions. Astana is now led by Johan Bruyneel and features none of the riders that made up last year's scandal-plagued season.

"It's a crazy scenario. I feel for the team and the people of Kazhakstan, who must be completely bewildered by what's happening to their team," McQuaid said.

Astana has tried to revamp itself this year under new leadership, with Bruyneel becoming general manager of the team. Bruyneel was the architect of Lance Armstrong's seven Tour victories.

Aside from Contador, other top Astana riders include Levi Leipheimer of the United States, who finished third at last year's Tour, and Andreas Kloden of Germany, the runner-up in 2004 and '06.