Astana says it's been offered spot in prestigious Giro d'Italia race

PARIS -- Astana will start next week's Giro
d'Italia, team spokesman Philippe Maertens said on Saturday
although the race director said their participation was 50-50.

"[Organizers] RCS called [manager] Johan Bruyneel yesterday
to ask him if he still wanted to participate in the Giro and he
said 'yes'," Maertens said.

"We don't know why they've changed their minds. They did not
explain anything. They told Johan, 'See you in Palermo'. Now we
have to send team buses and bikes over there," Maertens added.

However, Giro director Angelo Zomegnan told Reuters: "An
official announcement will be made on Sunday evening. At this
point it's a 50-50 affair."

"Talks are underway with Astana regarding their possible
participation in the Giro. Astana sent their request to us a
month ago with a different approach regarding the quality of
riders to take part in the race.

"If Astana were accepted it would of course affect the
lineup of invited teams we announced on Feb. 1."

Those invited were told at the time that there were teams in
reserve waiting to participate in the Giro, which starts next
Saturday in Palermo.

Astana, hit by doping scandals over the past two years, was
left out of this season's Giro and Tour de France but were
invited to take part in the Spanish Vuelta.

German Andreas Kloeden, twice a Tour de France runner-up,
told reporters after the fourth stage of the TYour of Romandie:
"I would certainly love to take part in this race. It's a big
Tour and I'm a big Tour rider."

Astana was asked to leave last year's Tour following Kazakh
Alexander Vinokourov's positive test for blood doping after his
stage win in Albi.

Compatriot Andrej Kashechkin has been sacked after also
testing positive for blood doping on Aug. 1 in Turkey.

However, Astana has overhauled their structure, with former
Discovery Channel manager Bruyneel taking over from Swiss
Marc Biver.