The chief executive of the Tour of Britain, Hugh Roberts, has defended the decision to allow Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero to take their places in the Rock Racing team for next week?s event.

The three riders were named in the Operacion Puerto investigation two years ago but their respective federations have not opened proceedings against them, whereas the likes of Jan Ullrich, Jorg Jaksche and Ivan Basso were handed bans by their federations.

In February this year AEG, the organiser of the Tour of California took steps to prevent the three riders from starting the race. Rock Racing?s response was to ask them to ride the route ahead or behind the race to maximise publicity for the sponsor.

Michael Ball, founder of the Rock and Republic fashion label, is the owner of the team and he has made a habit of courting publicity. On the Monday after the Tour of Britain (September 15), the riders will be making a public appearance at the Knightsbridge store, Harrods.

When inviting Rock Racing, the Tour of Britain organisers did not take steps to prevent the three from riding. Roberts said that when Rock Racing applied to compete, Hamilton (pictured), Sevilla and Botero were not specifically named as potential starters.

He said: ?This is a thorny issue really. They applied to ride and we were very keen to have [Fred] Rodriguez. We felt he would add something to the race to go up against [Alessandro] Petacchi and [Mark] Cavendish.

?We didn?t tell them [Rock Racing] which riders they could bring.

?Everyone understands where you are coming from on this one but it?s a very difficult one for us. We don?t want to be judge and jury, we just want to do our best to put on a good race.

?Rock Racing?s presence in the race has generated a lot of interest, particularly from the States, but it is not the case that we are courting publicity. We don?t believe that all publicity is good publicity.

?We invited the team, after that it is up to them. I don?t want it to sound like we are above and beyond this, but the riders have licences and according to the UCI they are eligible to ride.

?We have conformed to the rules. We want to put on a safe race, a great race. There are loads of positives surrounding the Tour of Britain, if you want to dig deep enough there may be some negatives.

?I am not sure many of your readers are really interested in this issue. We have received hundreds of emails and interest in the Tour of Britain is at an all-time high and no one is asking us about the presence of these three riders.?

Cavendish is not riding the Tour of Britain but will be at the Tour of Missouri instead. Italian sprinter Petacchi, sacked by Milram after being suspended for exceeding the amount of the drug he was permitted to use to control his asthma, will make his first appearance since serving a suspension in the colours of the LPR Brakes team.

Hamilton recently won the US national road race championships and will wear the stars and stripes jersey at the Tour of Britain. He served a two-year suspension for a blood doping offence detected during the 2004 Vuelta a Espana. After riding for Tinkoff in 2007, he joined Rock Racing at the start of this year.

Sevilla was sacked by T-Mobile in June 2006 after signing a document to declare he was not involved in the Operacion Puerto investigation. However, like Ullrich, he was implicated and he did not contest the sacking. Botero was released from his contract by the Phonak team, which folded in light of the Floyd Landis doping positive at the end of 2006 anyway. Last year he rode for the small Colombian team Orbitel.

CW COMMENT

Why Hamilton, Sevilla and Botero should not start Tour of Britain

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