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Astana confirms Lars Boom will start Tour de France

UTRECHT, Netherlands -- Astana team manager Alexandre Vinokourov confirmed Saturday that Lars Boom will start the Tour de France despite questions raised over his testing results.

Pre-race tests on the Dutch rider in the Kazakh-funded team showed a low cortisol level, which can indicate cortisone doping but is not conclusive proof of doping

Astana is part of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), a group of teams holding to stricter anti-doping measures than those of cycling's governing body. MPCC rules stipulate that a rider with a low cortisol level should be rested for a minimum of eight days.

After the UCI denied Astana's request to replace Boom with Alessandro Vanotti, Vinokourov decided to keep him in the race, which starts later Saturday with a time trial.

"Astana Pro Team will start the 2015 Tour de France with nine riders, including Dutch cyclist Lars Boom," the team said in a statement just hours before the start of the first stage, a 13.8-kilometer (8.6-mile) time trial in Utrecht.

Astana, the team of defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, added that it was told by the UCI that a low cortisol result is "no risk to the health of the rider, therefore there are no valid grounds for a late substitution."

The team added that Boom, who won a stage on cobblestones at the Tour last year, was cleared of any wrongdoing and that his low cortisol result was linked to the use of an "anti-asthma therapy."

"Astana Pro Team medical staff will continue to monitor Boom to assess any potential health risk for the athlete, and will retest the athlete in the next days with independent medical supervision to clarify the origins of the results," Astana said.

Astana -- which could have opted to start the race with eight riders -- could potentially be thrown out of MPCC, an umbrella group for several teams who are working to keep cycling doping-free.

Astana has been answering many questions of its own in recent months, after five senior and development squad riders were caught doping with EPO and steroids since last August.

Cycling's governing body, UCI, has even said there were "compelling grounds" to request that Astana, which is backed by the Kazakhstan government, be stripped of its license altogether.

"Our license was called into question but never taken away," Nibali said at a news conference Friday. "We've paid the price for the riders who doped, but we can't pay the price for mistakes we haven't made ourselves."