Alexandre Vinokourov

The Spanish Astana-Wurth team have announced they will not take part in the Tour de France after five of their riders were implicated in the Spanish doping investigations.

After initially refusing to respond to the Tour organisers requests to quit the race, the team changed their stance on Friday night and announced that the five riders in question (Sergio Paulinho, Isidro Nozal, Allan Davis, Alberto Contador and Joseba Beloki) would not start.

The other four riders in the team, including team leader Alexandr Vinokourov are not involved in the doping investigation but after the professional teams association decided not allow last minute replacements, the Astana team were unable to start the Tour because under UCI rules, team cannot start races with only four riders.

A total of 13 riders will be missing when the Tour starts in Strasbourg on Saturday afternoon with a 7.1-km time trial. They are the nine from Astana, plus Ivan Basso of CSC, Francisco Mancebo of Ag2r, and Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla of T-Mobile.

These four were all suspended by their teams on Friday after Spanish police released evidence that they were involved in the doping investigation.

The battle for the Tour de France is now wide open with the leading five riders of 2005 all absent this year.

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