Armstrong's Astana team solves financial woes

Jun 18, 2009 - 5:17 PM BRUSSELS(AP) -- Lance Armstrong's Astana team appears ready to participate in the Tour de France after reaching an agreement with its Kazakh backers to solve financial problems that have plagued the team this year.

Astana riders have held repeated protests since April over debts owed by the Kazakh Cycling Federation, putting the team's participation in the Tour in doubt.

Astana issued a statement on Thursday saying team leader Johan Bruyneel, its managing company Olympus Sarl and the cycling federation had settled their differences during a meeting with a Kazakh government representative and that the debts had been paid.

The agreement "gives riders and staff of the team sufficient guarantees for the operation and functioning of the Team for the remainder of the season," the statement said.

Bruyneel added: "With only 16 days left to the Tour de France, the riders need rest in their minds. ... It was hardly imaginable that our strong team would not have been able to participate in the world's largest cycling event.

"Thanks to the guarantees made by the Kazakh government, we can continue with the same group that already proved in the past to be a real team. We look forward to the next races."

The ruling International Cycling Union had threatened to withdraw Astana's racing license after riders went unpaid for two months.

Armstrong is riding for free this season but led teammates in a protest at the Giro when they wore jerseys with the sponsor's name faded out.

Astana receives most of its financial support from Kazakh state holding company Samruk-Kazyna, but the central Asian nation's economy has been badly hit by the global financial crisis.

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