Kazakhstan to help fund Astana team

Kazakhstan's government has agreed to partially sponsor Lance Armstrong's cash-strapped
Astana team to help it survive the economic crisis, a senior
official said on Monday.

Tourism and Sport Minister Temirzhan Dosmukhanbetov said the
Kazakh-based team's total costs were about $17 million per year but
did not give details as to what portion of that the government
was ready to provide.

"Our athletes are extremely fit at the moment. But having
said that, the current financial situation is not really good.
So I went to see President [Nursultan Nazarbayev] and he solved
the problem," Dosmukhanbetov told a parliament meeting.

"The question of financing has been settled as of today. I
think we need to help sponsor this team because it represents
our country's prestige.

"It is one of the criteria that helps us attract tourists,"
he added.

"Americans and Europeans are trying to buy this team. It's
easy to sell but we must do everything to save it."

The International Cycling Union (UCI) had threatened to
withdraw Astana's Pro-Tour license after riders complained their
salaries were not being paid.

However, the UCI said last week the team had provided
sufficient financial guarantees to continue racing.

During May's Giro d'Italia, seven-time Tour de France
winner Armstrong and all but one of his teammates blanked out
the sponsors' names on their shirts in protest at the financial

Astana is currently riding in the Dauphine Libere, a Tour
de France warm-up which ends on Sunday. The Tour starts on July