Friday, May 15, 2009

Astana: Fading Away

The Astana team has started wearing new jerseys in which the Kazakhstan logo on the front is purposefully faded out to the extent it is barely visible. Above is the jersey worn by Armstrong signing in on Stage 2, and the one worn today on Stage 7. This all comes about due to the pending demise of the Astana team.

Here is what team manager Johan Bruyneel said today:
"Since the beginning of the year, our team has had to deal with delays in payment from Kazakhstan. Up till now the situation is that the Kazakh Cycling Federation (KCF) has only paid two months of salary to the management company that runs the team. The only explanation we get from Kazakhstan is that the sponsors aren’t paying because of the economic crisis. They say they are trying to find a solution, but for me it is unclear which action they will take.

The UCI told me that the KCF has a deadline of May 31st to make good on the payments; otherwise the ProTour license will be revoked. We cannot do anything else other than to wait until the end of the Giro.

Of course, I haven’t stopped working on this. I am also trying to find a solution to carry on with this team from June 1st. Last year we managed to resurrect Team Astana. In a short period of time we made it one of the most loved cycling teams. This team structure cannot be lost!

For me personally I am in the same situation as the riders. I am not the owner of the team, and I am on the pay roll. From the beginning of the year payments to me are also late or not paid at all. For me it would be easy to stop. After the 2007 Tour I announced my retirement from the sport of cycling but then this promising project arose. I brought to Astana the infrastructure of the US Postal and Discovery Channel staff. These people still form the basis of the team. I cannot imagine breaking up this group.

There are some options as we approach May 31st. The KCF can fulfill their obligations and we will go on with this team and these sponsors. If not, their license will be claimed and Astana Cycling Team will be no more. If that happens, from then on I will have to find another solution to keep this team alive.

At the moment we are negotiating with some marketing agencies and global companies. When the news was leaked that there were payment troubles in our team, a lot of companies got in contact with me. Our biggest advantage is that we have the most marketable athlete on our team. You cannot wish to have a better representative of the sport. He opens doors to the industry. Especially in the US, a lot of companies desire to link their name to him. Even if Lance himself does not have to deal with the payment troubles since he rides without a salary, he suffers seeing his teammates not being paid. Although everybody is still motivated to continue together, it certainly weighs on the team.

I am confident that this team will be at the start of the Tour de France 2009 in Monaco: maybe under another flag or with another sponsor name, but we will be there. Just before the Tour de France, the biggest sporting event of the year, companies have the unique possibility to link their name to cycling and to jump into the middle of the season with Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and many others as their ambassadors.

What an opportunity…."

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