Two U.S. teams invited to Tour; Astana left out

PARIS -- Astana, the team of defending champion Alberto Contador, was among those not invited to compete in the 2008 Tour de France.

Two American teams, Slipstream and High Road, were invited to take part in the Tour. It is the first time more than one U.S. team has been invited to the world's most prestigious cycling race.

The Amaury Sport Organization announced Thursday the 20 teams invited to the premier race. Last month, ASO excluded Astana from its races this year because of doping violations in the past two years. As a result, the Tour de France in July will start without Contador.

"This selection is subject to the respect by each of the teams for ethics and honesty that must prevail in cycling," ASO said in a statement.

"I want to make clear that this decision is aimed at the
team, not at Alberto Contador but he happens to wear the Astana
jersey," Tour director Christian Prudhomme said.

But Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens criticized ASO's decision.

"Where is the logic? There are other teams who have doping
records. Rabobank and Cofidis have faulted in last year's Tour,"
he said.

"We changed the team structure, we've done everything we
could. The Tour de France is going to lose its value. Maybe
Cadel Evans will win it this year but people are going to say
'Yes he won, but Levi Leipheimer was not there, Andreas Kloeden
and Alberto Contador were not there,'" Maertens added.

Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana was caught blood doping at the Tour de France last year and Andrey Kashechkin tested positive several weeks later in an out-of-competition test.

Rabobank was invited to compete by ASO. Last year, the Netherlands-based team kicked out Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen before the race ended because he lied about his whereabouts when missing pre-Tour doping tests.

On the eve of the 2006 Tour, Astana -- then called Liberty Seguros -- was thrown out because several of its riders had been linked to the Operation Puerto blood-doping scandal in Spain. That decision left Vinokourov unable to ride in the 2006 Tour because he did not have enough teammates.

The 2006 winner, Floyd Landis, was stripped of the title for failing a doping test.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) and ASO have been at
odds since the Tour de France organizers refused to be part of
the ProTour.

Under UCI regulations, all ProTour teams have a guaranteed
place in the top races in the cycling calendar.

The entries include: AG2r-La Mondiale, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Credit
Agricole, Française des Jeux, Agritubel, Caisse d'Epargne,
Euskaltel, Saunier Duval, Gerolsteiner, Milram, Quick Step,
Silence-Lotto, Lampre, Liquigas, Team High Road, Slipstream,
Team CSC, Rabobank and Barloworld.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.