By Susan Westemeyer
Team Astana's four Swiss riders still haven't had their salary from paid since September, nor have presumably their team-mates from other lands. Daniel Akhmetov, of the consortium sponsoring the team, did not transfer the approximately 2.4 million euro due on September 30, according to the Swiss newspaper Blick. The International Cycling Union (UCI) has indicated that the team's future license may be endangered.
Blick spoke with two of the Swiss riders. "It's worse for my younger colleagues, who earn less than I do," stated Gregory Rast. "It's time that we got some money," Michael Schär added.
The money was due to be transferred to Zeus, Marc Biver's firm, which ran the 2007 team. The team is sponsored by a consortium of eight large Kazakh firms, and according to Blick, is led by Kazakhstan Defence Minister and President of Kazakhstan Cycling Federation Akhmetov. The sponsors have a contract with Zeus to fund it with 12 million euro annually. However, the sponsor is breaking with Biver, and has hired Johan Bruyneel to take over the team in 2008.
Meanwhile, Biver must pay his 58 employees, which he could do if he could get hold of the 2.5 million euro bank guarantee held by the UCI. Fourteen Astana riders – but not the eight Kazakh riders – have asked the UCI to release the money.
"Our attorneys are working on it. I think that Astana has to fulfil all of its 2007 obligations if it wants to get a license for 2008," UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf explained. He said that Akhmetov must act. "As license holder he is obligated."
Biver was doubtful, though. "Akhmetov stopped the payments. He will continue to oppose the release of the bank guarantee."