Astana riders in limbo

Riders on the Astana team are unsure of their positions after former Discovery Channel director Johan Bruyneel took over the team, bringing along nine riders to a team with 24 in the midst of a two year contract. In the Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure, 26 year-old Belgian Igor Abakoumov expressed frustration with the management, saying that he hasn't heard whether or not the contract would be honoured or whether the team will solve its financial issues in time to gain a ProTour license.

"I have no news: [Marc] Biver is 'dead'; Bruyneel is 'dead'; the UCI was told to wait," said Abakoumov, who is hoping to have his future resolved soon so he can either take an available spot at Mitsubishi or remain on the ProTour squad. "I have a contact, it's true, but I prefer to remain in the ProTour."

Bruyneel took over managing the squad after this season's multiple cases of doping: Matthias Kessler was positive for testosterone, Eddy Mazzoleni was suspended after being named in the 'Oil for Drugs' scandal, while both Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin tested positive for blood doping. However, the exit of these four as well as Jose Antonio Redondo being let go for disciplinary reasons, the open spots still do not accommodate the nine riders brought in by Bruyneel: Janez Brajkovic, Alberto Contador, Vladimir Gusev, Levi Leipheimer, Benjamin Noval, Sergio Paulinho, Jose Luis Rubiera and Thomas Vaitkus as well as Chris Horner.

With the voluntary exit of Paolo Savoldelli to LPR and Guennadi Mikhailov to Mitsubishi, the team's roster is one rider above the normal team size of 30, and far above the minimum 25 required by UCI ProTour regulations. With the days counting down to the December 15 deadline for submitting contracts to the UCI, the riders are getting nervous.

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