New Astana financial officer seeks merger deal with Saxo Bank and Contador
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Friday, June 17, 2011

New Astana financial officer seeks merger deal with Saxo Bank and Contador

by Conal Andrews at 8:09 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Financial officer Makhmetov also exploring Nibali buyout from Liquigas

Team AstanaWith Alexandre Vinokourov speaking about retiring at the end of the current season, plans are underfoot to secure the future success of the Astana team. It appears that Vinokourov, who is expected to have a management role in the squad he helped set up, hasn’t been informed about some of the manoeuvres taking place.

According to L’Equipe, the new financial chief of the team, Aidar Makhmetov, has engaged in talks with both Liquigas and Saxo Bank SunGard.

The latter is trying to secure sponsorship for 2012; L’Equipe states that Mekhmetov has proposed a merger with the team, which would effectively bring Alberto Contador back into the fold. He raced with the squad in 2008 and 2009, winning the Tour de France in the second of those years.

Relations with Contador became strained last year when the Spaniard left the team and signed for Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank SunGard setup. According to Vinokourov, he had previously given the impression that he was going to remain part of the Kazakh squad.

A sign of the tension became obvious after Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol. Belgian magazine Humo printed a story claiming that a unnamed team insider had said that the Spaniard used the substance after the Critérium du Dauphiné in order to lose weight. The article also stated that Contador had withdrawn blood to reinfuse back in during the Tour, and that traces of the substance had mistakenly been reintroduced into his body as a result.

Contador rejected the allegations and his legal team threatened to sue any publications who wrote damaging stories. What was notable though was that neither Vinokourov nor anyone else from the Astana team denied the matter.

La Gazetta dello Sport recently reported that Liquigas-Cannondale leader Vincenzo Nibali was on the Astana wish list. The newspaper said that the team was willing to hand over six million euros to get the Italian on board; three million would go to Liquigas in order to entice them to release the rider one year earlier than the scheduled end of his contract, while Nibali would be given 1.5 million euro per season.

Team manager Robert Amadio was having none of it, however. “Our policy is clear, riders are not moving contract [dates], for any amount. And Nibali is one of our symbols. It is clearly not just about money,” he said.

Now, according to L’Equipe, Makhmetov is trying another approach. It states that he has offered Kazakh gas to the sponsor company Liquigas in exchange for the rider.

The team had been chasing Philippe Gilbert but it was announced this week that the fact that a two year rather than three season deal was being offered meant that the rider was looking elsewhere.

Astana clearly is pushing harder to get a replacement leader for next season; the fact that Vinokourov may not be fully informed about what is going on is interesting, though, as it could suggest that his influence in the team is not as strong as he would like.

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