Astana?s exclusion from the Tour de France means that for the third successive year the race will start without the previous year?s winner.

ASO has been at pains to stress that its decision is not aimed at Alberto Contador but at the Astana team.

In theory, Contador could ride the Tour for another squad if he wanted to, if Astana were to release him from his contract and if another team was interested in hiring him.

But for now it appears the ?number one? plaque is up for grabs ? although there?s a fair chance the Tour organisers will do what they did last year and leave numbers one to nine vacant, awarding number 11 to Cadel Evans? Silence-Lotto team as last year?s runner-up.

It?s becoming common for the Tour to start without it?s champion.

THE TOUR?S ABSENT DEFENDING CHAMPIONS

No Contador this year, no Landis last ? Oscar Pereiro had not been officially crowned 2006 Tour winner when the 2007 race started ? and no Armstrong in 2005. It seems defending the Tour title is harder than winning it in the first place. Here are the other recent editions of the Tour that have rolled out without the previous year?s winner.

2007 Floyd Landis ? suspended after testing positive for testosterone in 2006 Tour
2006 Lance Armstrong ? had retired from racing after seven consecutive wins
1999 Marco Pantani ? withdrawn from racing after failing a haematocrit test while poised to win the Giro d?Italia
1988 Stephen Roche ? missed the Tour with a persistent knee injury
1987 Greg LeMond ? missed the Tour as he recovered from the gunshot wounds suffered in an accident while hunting during the off-season
1985 Laurent Fignon ? missed the Tour through injury
1983 Bernard Hinault ? missed the Tour through injury

THE 20 TOUR DE FRANCE TEAMS

FRANCE
Agritubel
Ag2r-La Mondiale
Bouygues Telecom
Cofidis
Crédit Agricole
Française des Jeux

BELGIUM
Quick Step
Silence-Lotto

DENMARK
CSC

GERMANY
Gerolsteiner
Milram

GREAT BRITAIN
Barloworld

ITALY
Lampre
Liquigas

NETHERLANDS
Rabobank

SPAIN
Caisse d’Epargne
Euskaltel-Euskadi
Saunier Duval

USA
Team High Road
Slipstream