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By Andrew Hood
Chris Horner will stay in Europe, José Luís “Chechu” Rubiera won’t retire and Vladimir Gusev remains “at home” as all three are poised to join the new-look Astana team for the 2008 season.
The Astana team announced the new arrivals Friday as well as revealed it will cover salaries it says were left unpaid to several riders from the 2007 season in a move that cuts all ties with former team manager Marc Biver.
“It’s worked out really well,” Horner said. “It’s fantastic. It’s going to be a great squad. We’ve got great sponsorships. It’s exactly what I wanted to stay in Europe.”
Horner’s future in Europe was in doubt after the popular American couldn’t hammer out a deal with Predictor-Lotto, his home for the past two seasons where he was top lieutenant to Tour de France challenger Cadel Evans.
The Belgian-based team balked over salary and Horner was linked to several U.S. teams before the surprise move to join Astana as ex-Discovery Channel boss Johan Bruyneel continues to rebuild the scandal-plagued team for the 2008 season.
“We believe in Chris Horner,” Bruyneel said in a team statement Friday afternoon. “He will be of extreme value in the mountains for our leaders. Chris is extremely motivated to join our team.”
Also making the move are two former Discovery Channel veterans Rubiera and Gusev.
The popular Rubiera, who rode on six of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, was looking at retirement following the demise of Discovery Channel because he was refusing to ride for lesser teams or a smaller salary. Gusev, meanwhile, will provide brawn to Astana’s classics program and was one of Bruyneel’s favorites at Discovery.
“For us, the capacities of Rubiera and Gusev are known well enough,” Bruyneel said. “We are delighted that both riders kept confidence in the team staff.”
The additions come in the wake of arrivals of other ex-Discovery Channel riders such as captains Levi Leipheimer and Tour winner Alberto Contador as well as Sergio Paulinho, Tomas Vaitkus, Janez Brajkovic and Benjamin Noval.
Bruyneel has promised existing Astana riders will have a place on the team for the 2008 season and most of the up and coming Kazakh riders are expected to stay. Others are leaving, including two-time Giro d’Italia champ Paolo Savoldelli. Andreas Kloden may depart also.
Bruyneel promises more changes as he works to restructure the team following the disastrous 2007 season that saw team stars Alexander Vinokourov and Andrej Kashechkin tested positive for homologous blood doping.
“With Astana’s new style, we want to invest in riders for stage races as well as for one-day-races,” Bruyneel said. “We are very ambitious. In the next days, we will announce more details about the Astana Cycling Team 2008.”
The team also announced Friday that the Kazakh Cycling Federation will pay back wages allegedly owed to riders once the situation is clarified. The team didn’t discount legal action against former team manager Biver.
“Apparently, a certain number of Astana 2007 Team members did not receive all their salaries from the former team management (Zeus Company of former manager Marc Biver). As KCF did not have the exact information on outstanding debts, payments could not yet be made. As soon as clarity exists about the magnitude of claims – a complex affair due to impact of social security, taxes, etc. – all payments will be made by KCF the forthcoming days,” the statement read. “KCF, that ended collaboration with Zeus due to mismanagement/lack of confidence, does not exclude to start a legal procedure against Zeus and/or Marc Biver.”