By Susan Westemeyer
Viatcheslav Ekimov is looking forward to the challenge of re-building Team Astana. Right now he is serving as sort of a 'middle man' between the sponsors in Kazakhstan and the new general manager Johan Bruyneel.
"I'm in the middle of all this because the guys in Kazakhstan are pretty bad with communications," the Russian said in an interview on thepaceline.com. "They do their regular job, big jobs in business and then the Federation is kind of like a hobby. But cycling is number one in Kazakhstan so they want to have a team. They have the money and they have the talent but they don't know how to run the team. That's why they were looking for new management.
"So far things have gone well. We're running late to keep our ProTour license for next year but hopefully that will work out. That's the biggest issue."
The initial contact from the sponsors was made to him. "The first contact was in early August, when they got their second positive with Andrey Kashechkin. They decided to change the management and they called me. They called me so they could establish contact with Johan. When the Discovery Channel team announced they were stopping with no sponsor the guys at Astana thought maybe Johan would become available."
It took a while for Bruyneel to change his mind about retirement, but within a few weeks, "Johan called as it was time to get back to them and by then the whole story had started in the press. We went there for the first meeting and met with the president of the Federation. We told him the things that needed to be done from the ground up to make a change in the team to recover from all the scandals and problems. We tried to impress on him the way we were used to working and they impressed us with how serious they were about the team. They were disappointed with what had happened but they still wanted to grow the team and they were ready to re-build the image of the team."
Ekimov says that the first year could be difficult, since the team will be an amalgamation of the riders currently under contract to Astana and the newcomers from Discovery Channel. "We still have 20 riders from last year and we don't want to kick them out, so the first year it will be difficult to organize and combine the guys to make them play as one team. But I think our second year we will be really good."
Two of the most notable riders still under contract to Astana are Paolo Savoldelli and Andreas Klöden. Will they be staying with the team? "That's something I don't know and would rather leave for Johan to discuss," he responded. Recent news reports have indicated that Savoldelli will return to Astana in 2008.