With team leader Alberto Contador set for the exit and likely to take four Spanish team-mates with him, Astana have started their rebuilding process by signing Robert Kiserlovski from Liquigas. The 24-year-old Croat, who finished 10th on his Giro d'Italia debut in May, has signed a two-year deal with the Kazakh team.
"I will benefit from having time to adapt. For the first season I will be at the service of a team leader and then we will see," Kiserlovski said in the Croat press. Kiserlovski is reported to have boosted his salary sixfold with his new deal. The Croat also revealed that he received an offer from a French team "which gave me total freedom, but I refused it".
Astana are also being heavily linked with Rabobank's Denis Menchov, who took third place at the Tour de France, and Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo, who was runner-up at the Giro.
The repercussions of Contador's announcement that he is quitting the Kazakh team are also rumbling on. Speaking to L'Equipe, team captain Alexandre Vinokourov disclosed that he had asked Contador if he was planning to stay with Astana in front of the whole team after the Tour's final stage in Paris. "I really hope so," Contador is reported to have said.
"We did all we could for Alberto for three weeks by sacrificing ourselves for him. I only hope that he didn't take the decision before the start of the Tour," said Vinokourov. He added that the team had never put pressure on the Spaniard to extend his contract, contradicting Contador's claims that he'd been given an ultimatum to agree to a new deal by July 27. "Alberto had been pushing for a new contract for four months, and it was he who was pressing to re-sign with us," Vinokourov stated.
Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli admitted he had started to have doubts about Contador's commitment to the team from the halfway point of the Tour. Martinelli said he thought that the Tour victory might convince Contador to stay with Astana, but added: "Even before the Tour it seemed like the Astana project was over for Contador."
Martinelli blamed bike manufacturer Specialized for what he described as Contador's "desertion". The Italian declared: "Specialized have invested in Contador and they can guarantee him being the face of their brand in the same way that Armstrong was the face of Nike."
There is also set to be a shake-up further down Astana's pecking order. The Kazakh federation's secretary-general, Valentin Rehert, has said that the Kazakh team will be cutting back on the number of local riders next season. "This season Kazakh riders comprised 50 percent of the roster, next season that figure will reduce slightly because one or two won't be retained." Rehert also explained that the team's 2011 roster will be "80-90 percent decided" by the end of the first week of August.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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