Astana secures three-year sponsorship deal
Astana, Tour de France 2009, team presentation, Monaco
The money-troubled Astana team looks set to have secured three years' funding from Samruk-Kazyna, a Kazakhstan state holding company.
The announcement came from Kazakh Cycling Federation deputy president Nikolai Proskurin, who spoke to agency Associated Press. "They will be the general sponsor and will take all the expenditures upon themselves," said Proskurin of the team's new backers.
The new deal should put an end to the cash flow problems of the squad that saw riders take part in a mass protest during the 2009 Giro d'Italia against unpaid wages. The team wore jerseys with the names of sponsors who hadn't paid up faded out.
Subsequently, the Union Cycliste Internationale demanded financial guarantees to enable the squad to continue.
Whether the financial security will be enough for the squad to retain 2009 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador is another matter. The Spaniard is contracted to ride for the squad until the end of 2010, but it is strongly rumoured that he is searching for a new team.
Certainly, many of Contador's 2009 team-mates have jumped ship with Lance Armstrong to the Texan's new US-based squad sponsored by Radio Shack. The team's roster is decidedly threadbare for 2010.
To compound Contador's dilemma, his leadership in the team is again in doubt with the re-appearance of Alexandre Vinokourov after serving a two-year ban for blood doping.
After this year's Tour, when one of his biggest rivals for the overall was Armstrong, Contador will want to be in a squad that is behind him 100 per cent, irrespective of sponsorship deals.