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After revealing earlier today that he is working to save the Astana team from financial collapse, Lance Armstrong has now confirmed that several US multinational companies are interested in backing the team, perhaps as part of ?Team Livestrong?.

Armstrong talked at length about the problems overshadowing the Astana team to Cycling Weekly, Gazzetto dello Sport and the Associated Press before heading out for time trial training near Venice on Thursday morning.

Armstrong and likely partner Johan Bruyneel face a race against time to find cash to keep the team afloat. The UCI has already threatened to take action and could revoke the team?s ProTour licence as early as May 27 if the £2 million dollar salary guarantee is not returned.

Despite all of this, Armstrong seemed confident he can find the cash and take over the team from the Kazak sponsors, who currently hold the ProTour licence.

“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. But we’ve had high interest,” he said.

“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.”

Armstrong indicated that the sponsor could be a major US multinational company that would work closely with his Livestrong Foundation.

Asked if the team could be called Livestrong sponsored by Nike or (pharmaceutical company) Bristol Myers Squibb, Armstrong said: “I suppose it could be, yeah.”

According to Armstrong, none of the riders or staff at Astana have been paid. Asked if he would cover the wages, he pointed out he is already racing for free, which he sees as a personal investment in the team.

He claimed he knew little about why some of the Kazakhstan sponsors have stopped paying the team, or if May 27, during the final week of the Giro, was a deadline for the Astana team?s survival.

“I’m already investing myself. Not taking a salary is some sort of investment,” he said.

“All that UCI business is out of my league. I don’t know any of those rules. I think the Kazakh federation [has the ProTour licence]. Johan does not have the license; I know that for a fact. I think he could get the license, but he doesn’t have it now.”

“If [the UCI} pull it when we’re in the race, I don’t know what happens. I think if they pull it and they don’t have the funding, that’d be the last race.”

ARMSTRONG WANTS CONTADOR TO STAY

The financial problems at Astana has led to speculation that Alberto Contador could leave the team, perhaps joining Caisse d?Epargne if Alejandro Valverde is banned in Italy next week.

However Armstrong made it clear he wants the 2007 Tour de France winner to stay.

“If I were the boss of the team or I were partners with Johan, I would want him on the team,” he 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.”

GIRO START MONEY?

Armstrong is an astute businessman and professional but denied reports by Italian newspaper Tuttosport, the main rival to the Gazzetta dello Sport, that is part of the RCS who organise the Giro, that he is being paid $2 million to ride the Giro d?Italia.

“No. I wish! That’s their competitor, so they’re probably starting some drama.”

So you?re not getting anything at all?

“Uh [long silence…] I wouldn’t say nothing at all, but (it’s not 2 million). We got $500 to start the Tour of Gila?.”

Armstrong trained for two hours on Thursday morning, working on the Astana tactics for Saturdays opening team time trial. On Thursday afternoon he heads to Venice for the official team presentation in St Mark?s Square and a gondola ride to the pre-race press conference.

While riding the Giro and trying to help Levi Leipheimer win, he will likely spend a lot of his time trying to work out how to take over the Astana team and create ?Team Livestrong? from its ashes.

Lance Armstrong Giro 2009 Astana LivestrongArmstrong gets ready to go out team time trial training with his team mates. Will he be able to save their team over the coming weeks? Picture by Steve Farrand


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