Cycling: Ullrich in clear but team 'must pull out' over doping claim

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Leading Tour de France contender Jan Ullrich will compete in this year's race but organisers have asked the Astana-Wurth team - formerly Liberty Seguros - to pull out because of a doping scandal. Tour bosses decided yesterday that doping allegations against Germany's Ullrich were too weak to justify asking him to pull out of the Tour.

"For the Tour de France, for now, there is no problem with Ullrich," Tour spokesman Philippe Soudres confirmed.

The recent developments threatened to seriously shake up the race before it starts on Saturday. The field is open - with Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Astana-Wurth rider Alexandre Vinokourov among the favourites - following the retirement of the seven-times champion Lance Armstrong.

The Astana-Wurth team's absence is likely to put Vinokourov, of Kazakhstan, out of the race. "We asked Astana-Wurth to pull out of the Tour de France" Tour spokesman Matthieu Desplats said yesterday, citing the "image of the tour".

The team has asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland to rule on the issue. The organisers' requests are not binding but are usually obeyed. If a team refuse, the organisers need backing from CAS or the International Cycling Union.

The tribunal should rule either today or tomorrow, probably leaving too little time for Astana-Wurth cyclists to change teams if their squad is forced out.

No riders have been charged in the investigation into alleged blood doping in Spain, but it has already led to many arrests, including that of former Liberty Seguros team director Manolo Saiz. Saiz was later released and denies any involvement in doping. Liberty Seguros withdrew its sponsorship due to the probe, and Astana-Wurth took over.

El Pais reported on Sunday that Civil Guard investigations show at least 15 members of the former Liberty Seguros team were among 58 professional cyclists who may have received prohibited substances and blood transfusions in recent years.