Team Astana facing financial woes
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Team Astana facing financial woes

by VeloNation Press at 9:41 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France

Team Astana is facing financial uncertainty while the Kazakh companies that invested in the national cycling project take the time to rethink their investment in the sport.

The team was spawned out of the Operación Puerto doping scandal as a way to ensure Kazakh national hero Alexander Vinokourov could continue to race his bike after the collapse of his Liberty Seguros-Wurth team. Due to Vinokourov's close ties to the Prime Minister of his country, he was able to secure a group of Kazakh businesses to fund the team under the guise of promoting the country to the world in a positive light.

The clock is now ticking on the ProTour team because the required $2 million guarantee money held in an account monitored by the UCI has been emptied to pay overdue salaries for team staff. The UCI rules state that upon withdrawal the bank account must be replenished within four weeks or their ProTour license could be suspended. If it comes to that, the suspension would last for at least one month.

The Astana team was initially led by Marc Biver, Vinokourov's agent, until Vino and his teammate and fellow countryman Alexander Kashechkin tested positive for blood doping in 2007.

Having their star rider in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons was surely a tough pill to swallow for the team sponsors. For a short time it looked like the success of Kashechkin would be enough to keep the Kazakh's interest, but he too was busted for doping adding more salt to the already gaping wounds.

The team was then taken over by Johan Bruyneel who was in charge of picking up the pieces and cleaning up the mess. The Belgian would add much needed legitimacy to the floundering team image, and help to turn it into a powerhouse by bringing on core riders from his former Discovery team.

Now it appears that the team is in need of a new title sponsor, as reports from Kazakhstan's website states funding from Kazakhstan is no longer a viable option. With his Astana team in financial crisis, Lance Armstrong suggested yesterday that his Livestrong cancer foundation might be able to step in and bail the team out of it's current situation.

The move would certainly raise the visibility of his cancer foundation, and would also ensure the rider has a chance to go for an eighth Tour de France victory in July.

Even with the economy in the toilet with the press that follows Armstrong it's not difficult to see a large corporation flipping most of the bill for a dual sponsorship with the Livestrong Foundation. The positive exposure a company would gain from having their name attached to one of the most prolific sportsmen of all time while campaigning to cure to a disease that has touched us all makes for a powerful statement and, most of all, a lasting impression.


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