Tuesday, June 16, 2009
It's 6pm In Switzerland
The most underreported story of the last two days has been the fact that the UCI, not content that the Kazakh federation had caught up to its current payments to the Astana cycling team, has required the federation to deposit an additional 6 million euro bank guarantee. That amount would effectively cover the sponsor's committment through the end of the year, leaving the team to ride the rest of the season without the sort of turmoil and costume changes it's experienced so far this year.
So why does it matter what time it is in Switzerland? Because that guarantee is due at 6 pm on Tuesday (revised from 5 pm). In other words, now. If there's one thing they know in Switzerland, it's timekeeping, so if the money has failed to appear, the case goes to the UCI's licensing committee. That body could force a transfer of the license from the Kazakh federation to someone else, and I think we all know the "someone else" we're thinking of.
Though cyclingnews.com picked up the story yesterday evening, the news was in play in the Belgian and Dutch media much earlier in the day. In fact, Sportwereld posted this story early yesterday, then pulled it in favor of one with fewer details, and has now reposted it. In it, Johan Bruyneel reflects that he's still had no communication from the sponsors, though he seems pretty comfortable with that, promising that the team, whatever it may be called, will be at the Tour start in Monaco. He's so comfortable, in fact, it's almost as if he has a Plan B, eh?
Now here's the question: was Astana just waiting for this announcement before they decided whether to pay up or not? Had CAS cleared Vinokourov to ride ahead of the Tour de France start, there's a chance the money could have arrived, with one very, very hefty string attached.
CAS didn't award Vino his two-week reprieve, however, so he remains sidelined until a nice, safe July 24 (leaving Tour Poobah Christian Prudhomme free to breathe a giant sigh of relief). So now I suppose we'll never know if the Kazakhs might have been able to pass the hat for a cool 6 million to put Vinokourov directly back in the thick of things, or how Bruyneel would have reacted to the sort of strong arm tactics that the Kazakhs would have likely employed to ensure Vino his return. Compared to the oft-referenced, seldom named "cycling mafia," I'm betting the Kazakhs play just a little bit harder when the chips are down.
Now all that remains to be seen is if Astana will cough up the cash to watch some Spano-Germano-Americano quadruple threat play hero on its dime, especially now that management has benched Kazakhstan's best-performing local boy, Assan Bazayev. According to the Sportwereld article, chances of receiving that check are looking pretty slim, and I'm guessing that fits pretty well into a well-developed Plan B for the team.
UPDATE, June 17 a.m.: Though there's no official release available from the UCI yet, cyclingnews.com reports that Astana (the team) did not receive any payment from the Kazakh federation by yesterday's deadline. Apparently, the Kazakhs may try again today, but not if they follow the advice of their lawyers and their negotiator, former Dutch pro Rini Wagtmans, who feel that the UCI doesn't have the authority to ask for the extra guarantee. They may be right, but not having the authority has never stopped the UCI before, so it may not matter very much in the end. In the CN article, Wagtmans weaves a few theories about how the process may go down, but I'll be damned if I can make heads or tails of what he's envisioning. Bad translation, maybe? Also, Joe Lindsey takes his own look at the situation and provides some basic background here.
Coincidentally, Wagtmans' former teammate, Eddy Merckx, has a birthday today.