No pay for riders?
By Susan Westemeyer
What's going on at Team Astana? Who is in charge and who is making decisions, and what decisions are being made? Those questions seem to be unanswerable at the moment. The Kazakh sponsors are publicly supporting a new team manager, but the old one is still in office. Riders are saying they will sign with the team, while the team spokeswoman denies contact with them. Yet, it's the riders currently under contract who are suffering most of all.
Some of the riders have said they will not talk to the press until they know what the future of the team will be. Others are willing to go public with their difficulties such as not getting paid. According to the Neue Züricher Zeitung, the team has not paid any September salaries, because it has not received the money from its Kazakh sponsors. Swiss rider Gregory Rast told the NZZ, "That's true, I haven't yet received my paycheck."
Rast calls the whole thing "an uncomfortable situation." He does not know what the future holds, but there is nothing he can do about it. "We all have valid contracts for next season and can't look for a new team although we don't know what will happen." He said that Directeur Sportif Alexander Shefer told him that the team will continue to exist in 2008. "But can I rely on that?"
The Kazakh sponsors have made it fairly clear that Johan Bruyneel will take over as team manager, but Marc Biver is still the manager and still has a contract. He is another one who is not speaking to the press, but, according to the NZZ, has let it be known that he feels betrayed by the Kazakh cycling federation, which holds the team's license. He flew to Kazakhstan this week, but returned without a signed agreement.
If Bruyneel takes over as general manager, he is expected to bring a number of former Discovery Channel riders with him. Tour de France winner Alberto Contador announced last week that he expects to sign with Astana "shortly".
Team spokeswoman Corinne Druey has denied that the Spaniard will join the team, and his agent, Tony Rominger told the NZZ, "We are holding discussions with many teams but we have not spoken with Astana." Rominger added, "Many unusual things are happening. But nothing surprises me any more."
Others may avoid the press, but Druey cannot. She has said, "I will never work in cycling again." She previously worked for the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie, but her year with Astana has soured her on the sport. She called Alexander Vinokourov's positive doping control during the Tour de France, "an enormous disappointment, which made me sick." She is employed by Biver and the controlling company, Zeus, and said, "For Biver and Zeus it is clear, that Astana 2008 will not exist in this form."