Without naming anyone specifically, Dosmukhanbetov added that "Americans and Europeans are trying to buy this team. It would be easy to sell but we must do everything to save it." He did not specify how much of the team's reported $17 million per year budget the government would cover, or whether the sponsorship would continue after 2009.
It's well and good to race Milan San Remo, the Tour of California or even the Giro in Astana uniforms; most Americans neither know much nor care much about those races. But the Tour de France draws all eyes, as well as possible questions about what an American icon is doing racing for a former Soviet republic one which a lot of Americans, like Armstrong, know primarily from Borat.
But that news, combined with announcements last week that the Kazakh corporate sponsors had covered at least part of their debt, indicate that Astana will take the start of the Tour de France on July 4 as Astana, not another team, and with all riders present (there had been speculation that if the team defaulted on its contracts with riders that Alberto Contador could jump to another team).
The team's financing had been severely curtailed when Kazakh corporate sponsors like Nike Air Force One White Low
It seems clear that Armstrong is chafing under that association. Throughout the season, he's appeared in the team gear only when strictly necessary, insteadchoosing Livestrong clothing or racing and training in gear with the logo from his Mellow Johnny's bike shop.
"The question of financing has been settled as of today," Tourism and Sport minister Temirzhan Dosmukhanbetov told Reuters."I think we need to help sponsor this Nike Air Force 1 High Top Brown
Things may be coming back together now, although it involves a solution that Armstrong may not love. According to Reuters, the Kazakh government has stepped in to partially sponsor the team for the rest of 2009.
For Armstrong, it means he doesn't have to put together a stopgap sponsor initiative or risk losing his start spot at the Tour because of sponsor woes. But it also means he'll be making his drive for a record eighth win wearing Astana kit, rather than a sponsor of his courting. That matters because of public perception.
who he seems not to like very much.
Lance Armstrong for Great Glory of Kazakhstan
During his winning Tour run, Armstrong had complete control over sponsor agreements Nike Air Force 1 High Pink Suede in 1999 he even sent a cease and desist letter to Postal's clothing sponsor, Pearl Izumi, for running an ad with him pictured because Pearl lacked a separate likeness agreement. But with Armstrong departed from the sport for three years (many felt permanently) and cycling sponsorships increasingly hard to come by, Bruyneel had moved on to a marriage of convenience with Astana. And now, Armstrong has to deal with all of the consequences of that union.
team because it represents our country's prestige."
Armstrong said he was strongly considering starting his own team and spoke of an announcement to be made perhaps after the Tour de France, and the rumors the last month have swirled around the possibility that team manager Johan Bruyneel whose company, Olympus, provides the service course and technical expertise that Astana runs on might find a way to wrest control of the precious ProTour license away from the Kazakh national cycling federation and align it with a new sponsor.
It always made sense for Armstrong to come back with Bruyneel, if he came back at all. The two are very close and enjoyed their greatest successes working as a team. But to reunite, there have been compromises: sharing the team leadership with Alberto Contador and, yes, racing for a sponsor Nike Air Force 1 Flyknit Low
Back at the Giro d'Italia, Lance Armstrong responded to questions about the future of the Astana team by bluntly telling reporters, "It's not my team; it's not my sponsor." That made it pretty clear that the always interesting relationship between Armstrong and, yes, what is his team's sponsor, was rapidly worsening.
Samruk Kazyna stopped making regular payments to the cycling federation, which then in turn failed to pay Bruyneel's management company. With salaries unpaid for two months and counting, the organization risked defaulting on its financial obligations and faced the possibility of the revocation of its ProTour license. The team fought back by racing over half the Giro d'Italia in uniforms with sponsor logos so faded they were almost invisible. But the latest news signals that the Kazakhs won't let go of their team without a fight, at least.
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