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Astana, with an eye on victory at Giro d'Italia, will send top three riders to Italy

5/4/2008

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Astana will line up
its best possible team in the Giro d'Italia despite a late
invitation to the three-week race, sporting director Alain
Gallopin said.

Giro organizers RCS confirmed on Sunday that it had
invited Astana to take part in the three-week race, which starts
on Saturday, after having originally left out the Kazakh team.

"We will go to the Giro with our three leaders, Alberto
Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloeden," Gallopin said Sunday before the fifth and last stage of the Tour of
Romandie.

"It is not easy to turn the riders' agenda upside down, but
above all the staff's. But since the beginning of the season, we
have been adapting to all kinds of situations. So it is obvious
that we're going there to win."

"Preparation for a Grand Tour involves intensive planning,
both for our staff and riders. Many people may not realize that
riders schedule their season-long training programs around these
three-week races," team manager Johan Bruyneel said.

"The one-week notice is certainly an extra challenge, but
I'm confident that our team will show up motivated."

American Levi Leipheimer said: "I was planning on training
in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, but now I need to fly to
Italy and prepare myself for a tough three-week race. I haven't
had the opportunity to take an in-depth look at the course, but
I know we'll tackle some big climbs.

"I've also read that there are four time trials, which leads
to me believe there will be some great opportunities for a rider
like me."

Astana entered the season with arguably the strongest squad
of the peloton, with Tour de France champion Contador, two-time
Tour runner-up Kloeden and last year's third-placed rider
Leipheimer.

The Kazakh team had overhauled its structure after being
hit by a series of doping scandals over the past two years, with
leader Alexander Vinokourov testing positive for blood doping
following his stage win in Albi at the 2007 Tour de France.

Belgian Bruyneel, who helped Lance Armstrong to seven
straight titles on the French roads, took over from Swiss Marc
Biver as team manager.

However, the team suffered a setback when Tour de France
organizers ASO said Astana would be barred from entering all
its races this season because of its doping record.

Giro organizers also said they would not invite Astana to
its events but changed its minds eight days before the start
of the Italian race.