Astana on the brink after new demands

Astana has hit tough times since the departures of Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong [GETTY]
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The future of Astana, Tour de France champion Alberto Contador's team,is again in doubt after cycling's governing body made new demands offinancial guarantees.

The future of Astana, Tour de France champion Alberto Contador's team, is again in doubt after cycling's governing body made new demands of financial guarantees.

The troubled Kazakh-backed team's inclusion in competition next season had appeared certain last week, when the oil-rich government pledged $US22 million ($A23.8 million) in financial support.

However on Tuesday Nikolai Proskurin, Kazakh Cycling Federation deputy president, said that the International Cycling Union is demanding a bank guarantee of Astana's annual budget before it will renew its ProTour licence.

Astana has a total budget for next year worth $US22 million ($A23.8 million) - the amount underwritten by the Samruk-Kazyna state holding company. Last week, Samruk-Kazyna transferred an initial sum of about $US3.7 million ($A4 million) to the paying agency that handles team salaries.

UCI has given Astana until Wednesday to provide the guarantee, but Proskurin said it is unlikely the issue would be resolved by then. Failure to secure the ProTour license will force Astana to release Contador - the world's top-ranked rider.

Proskurin said Astana is the only team being subjected to such rigorous financial demands by UCI.

"It seems to me that they don't want an Asian team in the ProTour, and for it to beat European teams," he said.

The team's current racing license is due to expire at the end of next year, but recurring delays in paying salaries to riders caused the UCI to demand guarantees on the team's financial viability by the end of last week.

According to Proskurin, the campaign to have Astana excluded from competing next year has been orchestrated by influential former team manager Johan Bruyneel.

"Bruyneel told us that he would do everything possible to ensure that they withdrew our license," Proskurin said.

Bruyneel, who now manages Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team, parted ways with Astana in July amid an acrimonious dispute over the planned return of Kazakh rider Alexander Vinokourov.

Vinokourov was banned for two years for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France, forcing Astana out of the competition.

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