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By Andrew Hood
Despite the turmoil surrounding the Astana team finances, manager Johan Bruyneel assured VeloNews on Friday that the squad will be at the Tour de France in July.
Astana rode with new jerseys Friday that virtually fade the team sponsors from view, a gesture that the team is hoping will trigger a reaction from the Kazakh sponsors.
VeloNews spoke with Johan Bruyneel before the start of Friday’s stage about the team’s finances and the possibility of new sponsors coming on board before the start of the Tour. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: What is the current situation with the team payments?
JB: I have to receive the money from the Kazakh federation, so the sponsors have not been paying the Kazakh federation. We cannot just sit back and put on the jersey and say that everything is fine and we’re all happy campers. That’s the goal of this decision. It’s something we made together with the riders. They’re here in the race. They’re doing a good job. They’re suffering on the bike. We deliver what we have to deliver and we expect it comes from both sides.
VN: When did your company receive the final payment?
JB: It’s difficult for me to follow because it’s getting a little complicated, but as of today, the riders have only received two months salary all year.
VN: Has the team had to use its bank guarantee to cover salaries?
JB: Not yet, it only covers three months. If nothing changes, that money is there, that’s the last-minute possibility.
VN: Have the sponsors told you why they’re not paying?
JB: I don’t have a direct contact with the sponsors. I have a contract with the federation. I have to rely on what the federation tells me. There’s the crisis over there. I don’t know.
VN: Is Vinokourov behind all this?
JB: I don’t think so. I think it’s definitely an economic problem there. Everybody is having difficulties. I believe that’s the truth, but now at the end, you can understand, certain things need to happen. You cannot sit and wait.
VN: So this gesture is the team’s effort to prompt them into action?
JB: I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried deadlines, this and that, until now, nothing has worked. I gave a deadline until this morning at 9 a.m.
VN: What is the future of team after this May 31 deadline if the money is not there?
JB: I’ve been told, even as of last night and this morning, that there’s a solution and the money is coming. I’ve heard that a lot of times. I need to see something happening now before we can move on.
VN: How are the riders reacting to racing without full pay?
JB: For now, the security is there for another three months available, so basically, they could be paid until now. Let’s hope the federation comes up with a solution and see what happens afterward.
VN: So now the team is considering sponsorships beyond the Kazakhs?
JB: You have to look at all the options. I didn’t receive enough acceptable answers for a possible solution, so you have to start looking for something else. Actually, when the news came out that there were financial problems, the information came from Kazakhstan that the team was in danger. The federation said the Giro could be the team’s last race. All of a sudden, it rang a bell to certain people and we got people asking what’s going on, is the team available? We’re working on that. That would be a backup solution.
VN: Will the team ride in the Tour de France?
JB: Yes, yes. We’re going to be at the Tour de France
VN: What are your impressions of Armstrong so far at this Giro?
JB: The expectations of everybody were way too high. He started out good in the team time trial, but you cannot forget, it’s his first big race back, first big mountains, five weeks off with a collarbone fracture. I’m happy with the ways things are going. I didn’t expect anything else. I would like it for him to be a relaxed race without too much stress and ride into form.
VN: The most important thing is to avoid a crash?
JB: I’ve been looking at the finishes for the next few stages. There are some dangerous finals. I said to him, consider yourself lucky you’re not here for GC, and don’t have to stress about being at the front every day. It’s exactly where he needs to be right now.
VN: Will Armstrong stay in Europe after the Giro?
JB: A week after the Giro he has a baby coming, so he’s going straight back to the United States. He’ll come back before the Tour.
VN: Leipheimer is well-positioned for GC, how do you rate his chances after the first week?
JB: Levi looks good, he feels good. Like I said from the beginning, we’re not going to obsess about the race too much. There are guys who play their whole season here, teams who play their whole season here. We will sit in the passenger seat for the moment and see what happens.
VN: Horner has also been impressive …
JB: He’s a warrior. He came into form and, at Gila, he said I am going to be there at the Giro. He does what he says. Respect. For a stage win, maybe it’s a little early for him. He will have to wait, because those guys like Di Luca are still fighting for the bonuses.
VN: What are your expectations for the team at the Cinque Terre time trial?
JB: It’s also very good for Michael Rogers. He’s there. No one talks about him. That’s the big day.