By Hedwig Kröner
It's a bit of an odd situation in the top end of the professional sport: Team Astana, whose Kazakhstani rider Assan Bazayev has just scored the first season victory for the squad at the ProTour stage race Deutschland Tour, has not yet officially been created. It is running on roughly half of its roster and will probably see the ProTour licence of its former management company withdrawn soon, as the UCI ProTour council has asked the Licence Commission to examine the case. The licence is still held by Active Bay, which is still partly owned by the former team's manager Manolo Saiz, under investigation in the Operacion Puerto affair, and believed to have created a system of organised doping within the squad formerly known as Liberty Seguros. Now, Saiz reportedly refused to sell his part of the company - alleging he is innocent - although the transaction was thought to have happened in the beginning of July.
The Kazakhstani investors, who want their team to include at least six Kazakhstani riders, have now made known that they are no longer hoping to take over the old management company, but planning to create a new one, which will apply for a ProTour license the usual way. In order to make this possible, the UCI Director's Board has extended the deadline for ProTour candidacy from May 31 to August 10.
"The team will officially come to life when the application for a ProTour license reaches the UCI," said Swiss Marc Biver, who has just been appointed manager of the team by Kazakh prime minister and cycling federation president Danial Akhmetov for the next four years. Biver used to direct the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie, and will act alongside team director Walter Godefroot, who has decided to come back to cycling after retiring as director of the T-Mobile team at the end of last year. Tony Rominger, who had been reported as the future manager of the team, will stay true to his current job as rider's agent, but nevertheless be 'technical consultant' to the team according to L'Equipe.
"The Astana outfit will have a 100 percent Kazakh licence and have nothing to do any more with the old team, which was directed by Manolo Saiz," added Biver to Belgian news agency belga, also revealing that the team's headquarters will be located in Swiss Neuchâtel.
It is not known whether the UCI license commission will be able to 'transfer' the license currently held by Active Bay to the new management company without delay, or if Astana will have to wait until autumn to know if it will be granted the ProTour license made available in this way. Unibet, Barloworld as well as T-Mobile and Astana will all apply to be included in the Formula 1 of cycling races - in the case of T-Mobile, the sponsor is separating form the current license holder 'Olaf Ludwig Cycling' and will work with the soon-to-be-created 'Neuer Straßen Sport GmbH' operated by Bob Stapleton in the future.