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Thursday, June 29, 2006
Vinokourov's team to start Tour de France

Associated Press

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected a bid by Tour de France organizers Thursday to exclude the Astana-Wurth team from this year's race because of doping allegations.

"Despite the number of troubling elements brought out by the media in Spain concerning the team, no official information concerning this inquiry has been revealed by the Spanish authorities," CAS said in its ruling.

Tour organizers asked the Astana-Wurth team Tuesday to withdraw from the three-week race that starts Saturday in Strasbourg, saying it wanted to protect the "image of the Tour." The team declined to pull out, and CAS invited both sides to Thursday's hearing at its Switzerland headquarters.

CAS said sanctioning the team "could not be justified" because of the lack of "concrete elements."

The decision clears one of the Tour favorites, Alexandre Vinokourov, to compete. The Kazakh cyclist, who finished third in the 2003 Tour, said earlier Thursday: "There is no proof against the team."

French sports daily L'Equipe reported that the International Cycling Union submitted Vinokourov to a surprise urine test late Wednesday. No other cyclists were tested, the report said.

Spanish daily El Pais reported Sunday that investigations show at least 15 members of the former Liberty Seguros team -- since renamed Astana-Wurth -- were among 58 pro cyclists who may have received prohibited substances and blood transfusions in recent years.

Five people -- including former Liberty Seguros team director Manolo Saiz -- were arrested and charged in May when police seized steroids, hormones and the endurance-booster EPO at a Madrid doping clinic. Saiz later was released. He has denied any involvement in doping.

Liberty Seguros withdrew its sponsorship due to the allegations, and Astana-Wurth took over the team earlier this month.

Athletes allegedly went to the clinic to have blood extracted for doping or to collect performance-enhancing drugs. Nearly 100 bags of frozen blood and equipment for treating blood were found, along with documents on doping procedures performed on cyclists.