The Astana Pro Team have confirmed a report in Spanish newspaper AS that their riders and staff have not been paid for the past two months but insisted that the team’s 2020 budget has been approved by their main backer, the Kazakhstani sovereign wealth fund Samruk Kazyna.
Last week the team decided to withdraw from racing until March 20 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
AS reported that Astana have yet to pay their riders and staff in 2020 due to a delay in funding from the team’s state backers, a situation which previously occurred this time two years ago. In a statement released by Astana on Monday, team manager Alexandre Vinokourov insisted that the matter would be resolved this week.
“We confirm that Astana Pro Team was not able to pay all wages in 2020 yet. The payment was done partially,” Vinokourov said. “We also want to confirm that the total budget of the main sponsor Samruk Kazyna has been successfully approved.
“It is also worth to mention the fact that Astana Pro Team has already started its 15th season and during all these years our main sponsor Samruk Kazyna duly provided us the necessary funds. As we are being sponsored by official government organization sometimes there is a delay of payment due to slow administrative processing of the funds approval.”
Samruk Kazyna owns a coalition of Kazakhstani state companies and has backed Vinokorouv’s team – named after Kazakhstan’s capital – since taking over sponsorship from Liberty Seguros in the midst of Operacion Puerto in 2006. There have been occasional delays in payments over the term of the sovereign fund’s sponsorship.
In May 2009, during Lance Armstrong's brief stint at Astana – which coincided with the final part of Vinokourov's two-year doping ban – riders protested at unpaid salaries by wearing jerseys at the Giro d'Italia that had the names of the team's Kazakhstani sponsors faded out. The issue was resolved in time for that year’s Tour de France after the UCI threatened to withdraw Astana’s ProTour licence.
In February 2018, Vinokourov himself raised the alarm in a carefully worded interview with Kazakhstani publication Vesti.kz, describing the team’s financial situation as “critical” and highlighting the delay in salary payments. Vinokourov’s intervention succeeded in releasing the necessary funding from Samruk Kazyna on that occasion, and he insisted that the team’s outstanding salaries for 2020 will be paid this week.
“Last week our team received official confirmation that the problem will be solved by the end of this week and we will get the funds to cover February and March wages,” Vinokourov said. “We are confident that after this week, the problems will be solved and that we can continue to perform in the upcoming races.”
Vinokourov added that the team’s financial situation had not influenced the decision to withdraw from racing until March 20 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Astana are among the seven WorldTour teams to have opted out of Paris-Nice due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.
“We also want to make clear that our current withdraw from races due to the coronavirus has nothing to do with the financial delay,” he said.
Astana Pro Team have won six races so far in 2020, with Jakob Fulgsang landing two stages and the overall at the Ruta del Sol.
Last month, Fuglsang and his teammate Alexey Lutsenko denied reports that they had frequented the banned Dr. Michele Ferrari after a leaked CADF report linked them. The anti-doping body later decided against any disciplinary proceedings.