Armstrong, Astana riders protest failed payments


INNSBRUCK, May 15 – Lance Armstrong and other riders on the Astana team are protesting the Kazakhstan squad's lack of salary payments by fading out the sponsors on their jerseys.LANCE_ARMSTRONG_595492456.jpgEight of the nine Astana riders committed to the protest for the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday, which began in Austria.

The only Kazakh rider for Astana at the Giro, Andrey Zeits, rode without altering his jersey.

Astana receives financial support from Kazakh company Samruk-Kazyna, but the nation’s economy has been badly hit by the ongoing global financial meltdown. The team has not paid its employees lately.

Team manager Johan Bruyneel said "we’re an important factor in the race, and we don’t want to pretend as if everything is OK. It’s not OK."

Earlier, Lance Armstrong’s team started the Tour of Italy’s seventh stage Friday with the name of their sponsor, Astana, virtually blocked out.

Astana, one of the most successful cycling teams in the peloton, are currently facing an uncertain future following reports the Kazakh sponsors failed to pay the team’s wages in April.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) have since sent a letter to Kazakhstan’s cycling federation, notifying it of a possible suspension if wages are not paid by May 31.

Adding spice to the situation is the fact that in recent weeks Alexandre Vinokourov, who helped form the team before his ban for doping in the wake of the 2007 Tour de France, has announced his intention to return to Astana.

Whether that possibility has riled Armstrong and co. is unknown.

But in the meantime the seven-time Tour de France winner and his team-mates are racing in a new shirt with the sponsor’s name, ‘Astana’, virtually unreadable