Lance Armstrong maneuvering to take over Astana |

Lance Armstrong maneuvering to take over Astana

Andrew Dampf
AP Sports Writer
Vail, CO Colorado

VENICE, Italy ” Lance Armstrong says he has “high interest” from sponsors if he takes over control of the crisis-hit Astana team.

“Considering the economy and considering global sports sponsorships, if it’s the title sponsor on Tiger’s bag, or it’s stadium rights. It’s a tough climate for all that stuff. We’ve had high interest,” Armstrong told The Associated Press on Thursday as he prepared for the start of his first Giro d’Italia.

Armstrong indicated the sponsor would come from a U.S.-based multinational company.

“You’re not going to find one in a week and say, ‘by the way we need 10 million bucks, please come on.’ They don’t jump that quick,” he added.

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 ongoing global financial crisis. The team has not paid its employees lately.

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Armstrong, who has a home in Aspen, Colo., is riding for free for Astana this season after three and a half years of retirement. His Livestrong cancer foundation could play a role in recruiting a team sponsor.

“I’m already investing myself. Not taking a salary is some sort of investment,” he said. “There’s no equity, you can’t own anything in cycling. You can say you own a team, but then you don’t own anything. When the contract is up and the obligations of the sponsor are up, you’re left with nothing. You’re left with bikes and cars and buses and trucks.”

The International Cycling Union could revoke Astana’s ProTour license if the team does not sort out its financial situation soon, perhaps even before the Giro ends on May 31.

“I think if they pull it and they don’t have the funding, that’s the last race,” (for Astana) Armstrong said. “All that UCI business is out of my league. I don’t know any of those rules.”

Armstrong suggested nobody on the team is currently being paid.

“I would know if I was taking a pay check because I’d be livid,” he said. “I remember back in the day, there were times they (payments) were a couple of days late and I’d go crazy.”

Still recovering his form after breaking his collarbone in a fall in March, Armstrong will support teammate Levi Leipheimer during the Giro, which begins with a team time trial Saturday.

The financial situation could motivate the team.

“At the dinner table. You don’t sense any bitterness or nervousness,” Armstrong said. “Most of these dudes are really professional and so they’re going to do their job either way. I think they’re optimistic something will work out either way. Hopefully they’ll pay or we’ll find someone else.”

The seven-time Tour de France winner also said he would do everything he could to keep defending Giro winner and 2007 Tour champion Alberto Contador if ownership ends up in his hands.

“If I were the boss of the team or I were partners with (team manager) Johan (Bruyneel), I would want him on the team,” Armstrong said. “I would not let him go. No way. Obviously I would have to pay him, let’s be fair, but he’s the best rider in the sport right now. If you want to look for the next 5-10 years in cycling, we would have to do everything to keep him.”

Armstrong said he had his 26th doping exam Thursday as part of the routine UCI checks of all 22 squads ahead of the Giro.

“It’s more of a health check,” he said. “It’s part of the UCI’s biological passport. … Just blood, no hair.”

Armstrong got into a flap recently with the French anti-doping agency recently when he took a shower while checking the credentials of a drug tester, who then took hair samples.

“They didn’t even use the hair,” Armstrong said. “They butchered my hair and didn’t even use it.”

Armstrong’s hair has grown back, but testers have other options if riders are bald.

“If you don’t have hair, they cut your finger nails,” he said.

Armstrong rejected reports in Italy that Giro organizer RCS was paying him $2 million to ride in the race.

“No. I wish!” he said, adding however that he is being paid ” likely more than the $500 to race the Tour of Gila in New Mexico last week.

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