- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PARIS (AP) - Twenty teams will compete at this summer’s Tour de France, with Lance Armstrong returning to the race he won seven times and the former Saunier Duval-Scott team excluded from cycling’s premier event.

Armstrong is riding with Astana in a comeback bid after 3 1/2 years of retirement. Ivan Basso, who served a doping ban, could also make his return to the Tour with Liquigas.

France will enter five teams, the only country with more than two. The two U.S. teams are Garmin-Slipstream, of Boulder, Colo., and Team Columbia-Highroad, of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Garmin-Slipstream’s Christian Vandevelde finished fourth in the 2008 Tour, the highest finish that year by an American.

The 20 teams will have a total of 180 riders for the 96th edition of the Tour, which starts July 4 in the principality of Monaco.

In addition to the U.S., Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain also have two teams each. Denmark, Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and Switzerland have one each.

Agritubel, Skil-Shimano and Cervelo Test Team _ for which Tour champion Carlos Sastre now rides _ were given wild cards to enter.

The Spanish team now called Fuji-Servetto quit the 2008 Tour when rider Riccardo Ricco tested positive for the blood-booster CERA after winning two stages. The team was also excluded from the recent Paris-Nice race before being left off the 2009 competition list released by Tour organizer Amaury Sport Organization.

“For us, it is out of the question that they start in any of our races,” ASO spokesman Christophe Marchadier said.

On Tuesday, Ricco’s two-year doping ban was reduced by four months. The decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport means the Italian will be eligible to ride in the 2010 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

Ricco appealed to CAS for a year ban because he gave information that helped French doping authorities catch teammate Leonardo Piepoli for CERA use.

ASO also kept Fuji-Servetto out of the Paris-Nice race because of its doping past, saying the team’s participation in the eight-day event could damage the image of its races. CAS has ruled that ASO was entitled to exclude the Spanish team from that event.

Last year, the Saunier Duval-Scott team was at the center of the biggest doping scandal to hit the 2008 Tour. Ricco had won the sixth and ninth stages before it was confirmed he tested positive for CERA. He was removed from the race and the team withdrew.

Teammate Leonardo Piepoli, who had won the 10th stage, later tested positive for the same performance-enhancing substance. The team was then refused entry into the Spanish Vuelta in September.

Astana, which includes both Armstrong and 2007 Tour champion Alberto Contador, was kept from the 2008 Paris-Nice race and the subsequent Tour, even though it was under entirely new management. The team returned to ASO’s good graces this year and competed in the Paris-Nice race, where Contador finished fourth.



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