Astana cycling team on the brink after ruling body makes new demands of financial guarantees

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Astana cycling team on the brink after new demands

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — The future of Tour de France champion Alberto Contador’s Astana team is again in doubt after cycling’s ruling body made new demands for financial guarantees.

Kazakh Cycling Federation deputy president Nikolai Proskurin said Tuesday that the International Cycling Union is demanding a bank guarantee of Astana’s annual budget before it will renew its ProTour license.

Proskurin says the demand is unreasonable and that he is unsure whether Astana can meet Wednesday’s deadline.

The team’s inclusion in competition next season had appeared certain last week, when the oil-rich Kazakhstan government pledged $22 million in financial support for next season.

UCI has given Astana until Wednesday to provide the guarantee, but Proskurin said it is unlikely the issue can be resolved by then. Failure to secure the ProTour license will force Astana to release Contador — the world’s top-ranked rider.

Proskurin said Astana, for which Lance Armstrong rode in the 2009 Tour, is the only team being subjected to such rigorous financial demands by UCI.

“It seems to me that they don’t want an Asian team in the ProTour, and for it to beat European teams,” he said.

The team’s current racing license is due to expire at the end of next year, but recurring delays in paying salaries to riders caused the UCI to demand guarantees on the team’s financial viability by the end of last week.

Proskurin said Samruk-Kazyna provided UCI with a pledge worth $22 million per season for the next four years to back Astana. UCI has rejected assurances from Samruk-Kazyna, however, and demanded a financial guarantee from a bank, he said.

“But a guarantee from Samruk-Kazyna is much more important, because it has the stamp of approval of the government itself,” Proskurin said.

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