The immediate future of the seemingly cash-strapped Astana cycling team has been secured for at least one more race, but the situation over the team's finances seems to be far from resolved.
The team's backers the Kazakh Cycling Federation provided the necessary guarantees through it's financial backers to satisfy cycle sport's governing body the Union Cycliste International (UCI) who cleared Astana to ride the Tour of Luxembourg which started today (Wednesday). Astana rider Gregory Rast duly celebrated still having a job by winning the prologue – his teammates Assan Bazayev and Andreas Kloden came 4th and 6th repectively.
However, the UCI clearance is only for one race and, their spokesman Enrico Carpani, told the Associated Press news agency, the organisation will continue to monitor the situation closely.
While the UCI would not want to suspend the team currently eighth in the world rankings and with two legendary Tour winners, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador in its ranks, the history of opaque, complex or simply not there team financing of cycling teams often leading to unpaid riders and support staff forced it to impose the system of financial guarantees that a team has to provide in order to get a ProTour licence. While Astana's most famous rider, Armstrong, does not draw a salary from the team the word is that those that do have not been receiving regular payments.
During the Giro all but one of Astana's riders (Andrey Zeits – the lone Kazakh on the squad) took to wearing a team strip with the names of non-paying sponsors faded out.
As we've noted before, the Kazakh economy which relies on the export of minerals and other raw materials has been badly hit by the world economic downturn leading to a significant drop in income for the state holding company which supports the Kazakh Cycling Federation. Even if, as seems likely, they manage to limp along until the Tour de France it seems highly unlikely that their support will continue into next season or that they would be in a position to provide the necessary guarantees. Given the nature of the world wide recession Kazakh finances are unlikely to suddenly improve any time soon.
The nightmare scenario for the team, it's fans and the world media is that Astana manages to limp along for most of June, they plan to race the Dauphine Libere and the Tour de Suisse but then falls over just before the Tour leaving no time to put alternative financing in place.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.