<
>

Astana to resume paying riders

4/16/2009

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan's cycling federation said Thursday it will resume paying salaries to Lance Armstrong's Astana team now that it has received money owed by its sponsors.

Astana cyclists, including Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador, have not received salaries for around a month, prompting fears the team could be disbanded.

"We started receiving the first payments yesterday ... and now that money will be forwarded to the team," Kazakh Cycling Federation deputy chief Nikolai Proskurin told the Associated Press.

Astana receives most of its financial support from Kazakh state holding company Samruk-Kazyna, but the Central Asian nation's economy has been badly hit by the ongoing global financial crisis.

While Samruk-Kazyna has pledged to continue its support for Astana, which is named after the Kazakh capital city, state carrier Air Astana has stopped sponsoring the team.

One team member unaffected by the wage delays is seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong, who agreed in September to ride for free for the first year of his comeback to professional cycling.

The possibility of Astana disbanding would come as a blow to the Kazakh government, which uses the team to raise the country's sporting profile.

Under the stewardship of Johan Bruyneel, who became team manager in 2007, Astana has secured victories in the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon and the Giro d'Italia.

Armstrong is in the United States as he recuperates from surgery on a broken right collarbone. The 37-year-old American plans to race in the Giro d'Italia, which begins on May 9. He also plans to ride in the Tour this July, his first since 2005.