UTRECHT, Netherlands (AP) On the very first day of the Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali's Astana team found itself at the heart of another controversy after allowing one of its riders to start the race despite questions raised over his testing results.
Pre-race tests on Dutch cyclist Lars Boom, who rides for the Kazakh-funded team, showed a low cortisol level, which can indicate cortisone doping but is not conclusive proof of doping.
Astana is part of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), a group of teams holding to stricter anti-doping measures than those of cycling's governing body, and should have removed Boom from the Tour to comply with the umbrella group's policy.
MPCC rules stipulate that a rider with a low cortisol level should be rested for a minimum of eight days, mainly for health reasons.
But after cycling's governing body denied Astana's last-minute request to replace Boom with reserve rider Alessandro Vanotti, team manager Alexandre Vinokourov decided to keep him in the race. Boom competed in the opening time trial, ending in 23rd place, just behind Nibali.
Astana said it was told by the UCI that a low cortisol result is ''no risk to the health of the rider, therefore there are no valid grounds for a late substitution.''
Asked about Astana's decision, UCI president Brian Cookson said no infraction were made and that Boom could ride the Tour.
''In these situations (it is important) to apply the rules accurately and consistently,'' he said. ''No rules of the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency have been broken so he's allowed to ride the Tour de France. This is an unfortunate result for them but no anti-doping rules have been broken in this case.''
Astana added that Boom, who won a stage on cobblestones at the Tour last year, is treated for asthma and that his low cortisol result could be linked to the therapy.
''Astana Pro Team medical staff will continue to monitor Boom to assess any potential health risk for the athlete, and will retest the athlete in the next days with independent medical supervision to clarify the origins of the results,'' Astana said.
Asked after the stage if he had ever taken corticoid steroids, Boom shook his head and said: ''No.''
Astana - which could have opted to start the race with eight riders - could potentially be thrown out of MPCC, an umbrella group for several teams who are working to keep cycling doping-free.
''Astana should have prevented him from racing,'' said MPPC president Roger Legeay. ''This is unfortunate. They wanted to start with nine riders, but the rules are the rules.''
Astana has been answering many questions of its own in recent months, after five senior and development squad riders were caught doping with EPO and steroids since last August.
The UCI has even said there were ''compelling grounds'' to request that Astana, which is backed by the Kazakhstan government, be stripped of its license altogether.
''Our license was called into question but never taken away,'' Nibali said at a news conference Friday. ''We've paid the price for the riders who doped, but we can't pay the price for mistakes we haven't made ourselves.''
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this story.