Astana secures new sponsor
Kazakhstan - Tour de France winning team Astana will sign a three-year sponsorship deal on Monday with Kazakhstan's vast state holding company, Kazakh Cycling Federation deputy president Nikolai Proskurin said.
The financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but Proskurin said the contract will solve the financial difficulties that had threatened the team's existence.
Details proving Astana's financial viability will be submitted to cycling's governing body in the near future, he said.
The International Cycling Union had warned that the team's cash troubles could endanger its chances of securing a new four-year license.
Astana's current license is due to expire at the end of next year, but recurring delays in paying salaries to riders prompted the UCI to demand guarantees on the team's financial stability by mid-October.
Astana riders have over the past season held repeated protests over debts owed by the Kazakh Cycling Federation.
During the Giro d'Italia, former Astana rider Lance Armstrong led team-mates in a protest when they wore jerseys with the sponsor's name faded out.
Samruk-Kazyna, a state holding that encompasses some of the energy-rich country's largest companies, including oil and gas company Kazmunaigas and national airline Air Astana, will be the team's exclusive backer up to and including 2012, Proskurin said.
"They will be the general sponsor and will take all the expenditures upon themselves," he told The Associated Press.
Astana top rider, Spain's Alberto Contador, won the Tour de France for the second time in July with teammate and seven-time Tour champion Armstrong finishing third. Armstrong announced during the race that he was leaving Astana to form his own team for 2010 with Radio Shack as the sponsor.
Contador's contract runs into 2010. The new sponsorship deal will make it difficult for Contador to terminate his role in Astana before his contract expires.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has taken personal interest in the fate of the team, which is seen as a prestige project for the Central Asian nation.