Marc Biver, former director of the Tour de Suisse, has formed a management company to operate the new Astana Team, the Neue Züricher Zeitung has reported. He is acting on behalf of the Kazakhstani prime minister. The company is to be called Zeus and will be based in Neuenburg, Switzerland, thus making Astana a Swiss team. Biver speaks of "one of the largest budgets in cycling," with the Kazakhstani government and a consortium of the five largest Kazakhstani business each giving half of the money.
The newspaper further reports that Biver has taken over "half a dozen masseurs and mechanics" from Team Phonak, which is ending after the end of this season, but that he is "not interested" in the four directeurs sportifs. Without naming names, the paper adds that he has signed "21 of 28 pros", but that he is waiting on further actions until next week, when he expects to get a four-year Pro Tour license.
The same article says that of the 17 Phonak riders who are job-hunting, only four have so far been successful: Martin Elmiger (Ag2R), Bert Grabsch (T-Mobile), Steve Morabito (Astana) and Steve Zampieri (Cofidis). It doesn't look good for the others: "Right now there are a half dozen applicants for every free place on a Pro Tour team. That pushes the salaries down," says rider agent Rolf Huser, who represents five Phonak riders.
However, Astana may also be facing problems. The International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP) last week called for the immediate suspension of both Phonak and Astana. According to the newspaper article, deposed manager Manolo Saiz is still pulling the strings at Astana, which is the former Liberty Seguros team. Under pressure from the UCI after his involvement in the Dr. Fuentes doping scandal, he sold his shares in the firm Active Bay, which operated his team and removed himself from the business. "That is the official version," the newspaper says. "The truth is, that Saiz is still active. For next Tuesday he has called all of the Astana riders to a meeting in Madrid."