Lengthy Spanish media reports on Thursday have claimed that 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador may not be able to start the race in 2008. The Tour organisers themselves are making no comment on the issue.

Full-page stories in the Spanish press claim that Contador?s new team, Astana, may be excluded because of the events of last year?s Tour.

The newspapers largely base their assertion on four fundamental points: an alleged meeting between Tour organising company ASO and new Astana manager Johan Bruyneel in December, ASO boss Patrice Clerc?s comments in the Tour presentation in October that ?no team has an automatic guarantee that they will start in the Tour in 2008?, the events in last year?s Tour (Vinokourov?s positive and the team?s mass abandon), and the renewed investigation of Operacion Puerto in Italy. Alberto Contador is not implicated in Puerto, but investigators in Italy refuse to rule out asking Contador to go to Italy to make a declaration.

The arrival of Johan Bruyneel and Alberto Contador in late 2007 was designed to usher in a new-look, cleaner Astana. The Kazakhs have spent nearly 500,000 euros on their own anti-doping program. It will be run by Rasmus Damsgaard, the scientist used by CSC for the same purpose in the 2007 season.

Bruyneel commented in December that ?the only thing that remains of the ?07 Astana is the name.? But according to the Spanish media this may not prove enough for Contador to be able to start the Tour.

Contacted by Cycling Weekly, a Tour de France spokesman refused to make any comment on the reports, and would not confirm when the list of Tour 2008 teams would be published.

As for Contador himself, the Spaniard left Europe yesterday for the United States for the team?s first main training camp. His plans to start the year in the Tour of Mallorca remained unaltered.

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