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By Andrew Hood
Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador has a new home for the 2008-09 seasons. As previously reported on VeloNews.com, the Spanish climber on Tuesday confirmed a two-year contract with Astana. Contador follows former Discovery Channel sport director Johan Bruyneel to the new-look Astana team, which has been riddled with doping scandals during the 2007 season that saw star riders Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin test positive for blood doping.
Contador, 24, insists that management changes within the Astana team will help assure a new start as he takes the difficult challenge of defending his Tour crown.
“My main objective in 2008 will be to ride the Tour de France and try to confirm the yellow jersey on the Champs Elysées,” Contador said. “After considering the different offers, I opted for Astana because it is a completely new project and one that offers the best sporting guarantees that I will have at my disposition a great team for the Tour.”
More former Discovery Channel riders are expected to sign with Bruyneel as he takes over management duties at the Kazakh-sponsored team.Contador wants to bring loyal helpers Sergio Paulihno and Benjamin Noval while Bruyneel is expected to tap Janez Brajkovic, Tomas Vaitkus and American champ Levi Leipheimer.
Mayo not out of woods yet
It seems Iban Mayo isn’t out of the woods yet after what initially appeared to be a “miracle” B-sample that came back negative and cleared the Spanish climber of doping allegations.
On Monday, the Spanish cycling federation shelved a potential two-year racing ban against the Saunier Duval-Prodir rider, who tested positive for EPO during the 2007 Tour de France. His lawyer and Spanish cycling authorities both confirmed the test results of the second, follow-up “B” sample are negative.
Officials from the UCI on Tuesday, however, insisted that follow-up tests of “B” samples aren’t completed yet and there’s more to be done before the once-mighty Basque is fully in the clear.
“The second sample is not negative,” UCI anti-doping coordinator Anne Gripper told AFP at Tuesday’s doping summit in Paris. “The analysis of it has not yet finished.”
The Mayo case dragged on for weeks without news of the second test. Mayo tested positive on the second rest day of the 2007 Tour and has been suspended without pay since early August.
There were some reports that labs botched the test, but Gripper insisted that testing methods between labs in France, where the “A” sample was tested, and follow-up tests in Belgium are not the same. Officials now want a second sample to be re-tested at the Chatenay-Malabry lab in France.
She said it would be another “five or six weeks” before the second round of tests is completed. Even if the follow-up tests are negative, the UCI said it might consider an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
On Monday, the 30-year-old Mayo expressed relief when the news initially broke in Spain.
“I wasn’t fully calm until my lawyer called me to confirm that the Spanish cycling authorities had closed the case,” Mayo told El Correo daily in Bilboa. “I had a clear conscience and I was confident that things would end like that. I’ve been expecting this for a few days, but I was never satisfied until I got the call. I knew that something had happened because it took so long to settle the case.”
This was Mayo’s second brush with a doping scandal this season. Earlier this, Mayo was absolved of doping allegations despite showing high levels of testosterone at the Giro d’Italia.
Transfers: McGee to CSC; Lampre signs two; extensions at Rabo’
The oft-injured Brad McGee has signed a one-year contract to join Team CSC for the 2008 season after riding for 10 years with the FDJeux outfit.
“After 10 years with the same team it is only natural that I should want to try something new. The last two years have been very difficult for me because of an injury, which I’ve only just recovered from recently. I need a fresh start and I can have that with Team CSC,” McGee said.
“I truly feel this is the right place for me to rediscover my former level, both physically and mentally. I’m just looking forward to embarking on a whole new chapter in my career now.”
Lampre-Fondital has recruited two newcomers with Mirco Lorenzetto and Marco Bandiera. The 25-year-old Lorenzetto switches from Milram while Bandiera, 23, will be making his pro debut.
Rabobank has extended contract with three riders. Joost Posthuma and Graeme Brown each signed on for two more seasons while Grischa Niermann for one more.
Soler on the mend
Colombian climbing phenom Mauricio Soler is back in Italy to put the finishing touches on rehab before heading to France late this week for the presentation of the 2008 Tour de France route.
Soler won the best climber’s jersey and one stage in a phenomenal Tour debut this year with Barloworld. His season was cut short when doctors operated on his right wrist to repair damaged cartilage.