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U.S. cyclist says banned Astana team members plan to fight

PARIS -- Astana's riders are ready to fight after being kicked out of the 2008 Tour
de France, American Levi Leipheimer said Thursday.

"I am in shock and very disappointed," said Leipheimer, who finished
third in last year's Tour.

Already left out of the Giro d'Italia, Astana will not be
invited to any events organized by Amaury Sport Organisation
this year, including the Tour, the ASO said Wednesday.

The team, whose reputation has been tarnished by several
doping scandals, could not be trusted, Tour director
Christian Prudhomme said.

"We are all left wondering," Leipheimer said in a statement
released by Astana. "I chose this team because it was a very new
team which I've already experienced.

"I stand by my decision to be part of the new Astana team
for 2008. In a supportive manner the entire team will fight
back."

International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid, who
said last week there was no reason for organizers not to include
Astana in the Tour, said he could not understand the decision
not to invite them.

Astana changed its structure after being forced to pull
out of last year's Tour when Kazakh rider Alexander Vinokourov,
who has since retired, tested positive for blood doping.

His compatriot Andrey Kashechkin, Italian Eddy Mazzoleni and
German Matthias Kessler also were involved in doping-related
incidents. All were thrown out of the team.

Astana is now under the guidance of former Discovery Channel manager
Johan Bruyneel and still backed by the Kazakhstan Cycling
Federation (KCF) and the country's oil companies.

Last year's Tour winner, Alberto Contador of Spain, joined the
team on a two-year deal in October. Astana also had two other riders, Leipheimer and
former Tour runner-up Andreas Kloeden of Germany, who had a chance of winning the showcase event.

"I can't understand why we are not allowed to take part in
the Tour and defend Alberto's title with two other riders
capable of winning, myself included," Leipheimer said.