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By Steve Frothingham
A spokesman for Lance Armstrong says he and his team will start the Giro d’Italia this weekend wearing Astana uniforms, despite ongoing financial difficulties at the team.
Armstrong’s spokesman Mark Higgins told VeloNews one thing is certain: “It will be Astana colors for the Giro when it starts on Saturday.”
European media has reported that some team employees and riders have not been paid and the team is in jeopardy of losing its UCI license. There is much speculation that new sponsors may step in to rescue the team, perhaps as soon as the start of the Giro. However there is little factual information to suggest that, beyond Armstrong’s musings to reporters that he would like, at some point, to own and manage his own pro team.
Armstrong told reporters in Italy on Wednesday that the financial situation concerned him. “There’s not a lot of clarity about what is going to happen,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
“Maybe the situation gets resolved, and the guys start getting their dough,” Armstrong told the AP. “Otherwise, I think the license ought to be transferred to (team director) Johan (Bruyneel), and we try and start a team in the middle of the season.”
Alain Rumpf, the UCI ProTour manager, said there has been no request to transfer the team’s license to new owners.
“We are working to ensure that this critical situation can be solved in a satisfactory manner for all parties,” Rumpf said. The team’s license is owned by the Kazakh Cycling Federation. “If it is transferred, the license commission will have to make a decision under which condition a transfer can be approved. However, I would like to point out that this is purely hypothetical as we have received no request for the moment.”
At the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico last week, Armstrong told VeloNews that he would like the Trek-Livestrong development team to eventually be part of a ProTour team.
“You develop guys and then they go off to Rabobank or Cofidis or some other international team. Ideally you would develop them into your own team … a feeder team into a major professional team, which we don’t have right now.”
UCI president Pat McQuaid is heading to Kazakstan this month to talk to Astana’s sponsors about the team’s future.
“The journey was already planned, but (McQuaid) will certainly take the opportunity to meet with the president of the national federation and discuss this matter,” a UCI spokesman told VeloNews.
Astana’s Chris Horner told VeloNews last month that he has always received his monthly paychecks from the team.
“If the check comes, I am happy – but I know if Alberto (Contador) didn’t get paid, he would have a new contract tomorrow – I’m sure Levi (Leipheimer) could find a job whenever he needed to. I would assume all the big guys are being paid,” Horner said. “I’m always working with the team, while having financial issues in the back of my mind, but so far I’m being paid, and being paid pretty well.”
The Livestrong Foundation has released a statement clarifying that it would be unable to take over sponsorship of the team.
“Lance’s goal in returning to professional cycling is to raise awareness of the global cancer burden,” the statement reads. “The prospect of a world-class team joining the Livestrong Global Cancer Campaign and driving the broader cancer message is incredible. While as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Lance Armstrong Foundation would not be able to fund the day-to-day operational expenses of a for-profit endeavor, we would certainly look for ways to develop a dynamic partnership to support the cancer mission and cancer survivors.”
At an Astana team news conference in Venice, held Thursday evening local time, Armstrong and Bruyneel played down the reports of a dramatic change.
“The team is very optimistic,” said Armstrong. “There is a good spirit in the team.”
Bruyneel said he was confident a solution can be found.
“We want to find a solution between now and the end of the Giro,” said the Belgian.
“We hope our sponsors can resolve the problem. If not, we will find another answer.”
Agence France Presse contributed to this report.