Kazakhstan to help fund Astana team

Updated: June 8, 2009, 11:25 AM ET

Kazakhstan's government has agreed to partially sponsor Lance Armstrong's cash-strapped Astana team to help it survive the economic crisis, a senior official said on Monday.

Tourism and Sport Minister Temirzhan Dosmukhanbetov said the Kazakh-based team's total costs were about $17 million per year but did not give details as to what portion of that the government was ready to provide.

"Our athletes are extremely fit at the moment. But having said that, the current financial situation is not really good. So I went to see President [Nursultan Nazarbayev] and he solved the problem," Dosmukhanbetov told a parliament meeting.

"The question of financing has been settled as of today. I think we need to help sponsor this team because it represents our country's prestige.

"It is one of the criteria that helps us attract tourists," he added.

"Americans and Europeans are trying to buy this team. It's easy to sell but we must do everything to save it."

The International Cycling Union (UCI) had threatened to withdraw Astana's Pro-Tour license after riders complained their salaries were not being paid.

However, the UCI said last week the team had provided sufficient financial guarantees to continue racing.

During May's Giro d'Italia, seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong and all but one of his teammates blanked out the sponsors' names on their shirts in protest at the financial problems.

Astana is currently riding in the Dauphine Libere, a Tour de France warm-up which ends on Sunday. The Tour starts on July 4.