Astana’s Financial Alert

On the same day Michael Valgren won the Omloop, Astana team staff got an email saying their employer was waiting for sponsorship cash and the team later confirmed it is in financial difficulty. This followed news on Friday night on where team manager Alexandr Vinokourov warned his team had not received its funding for 2018 and was paying travel costs out of “savings”.

The team’s not bankrupt but management must be nervous: why make this public because even if the promised cash shows up it will only deter riders from renewing or joining the squad?

Ok for now
The Vesti interview was notable because it was not a press release, normally news goes via the official channel. It seems riders have been paid for January but we’ll soon learn if there is cash to continue funding the payroll.

Public appeal?
What to make of the interview done in public? One theory is Vinokourov wanted to use the Kazakh media to make an appeal for the political backers of the team to unblock the cash but that’s a pure guess, in part inspired by the long sections where “Vino” is promoting the Kazakh aspect of his team and how it has brought on riders like Alexey Lutsensko. A times the interview reads like a sales sheet. Vinokourov says if the money is not forthcoming the team will stop.

Who sponsors the team?
Astana is the name of Kazakhstan’s capital city and the team is sponsored by Samruk Kazyna, the state sovereign wealth fund that owns the country’s oil and gas firm, the postal service, banking, telecoms and more. In addition the Astana Presidential club is a sponsor, this is a multi-sports club created to promote sport and itself funded by Samruk Kazyna. Other sponsors include Air Astana, itself owned by Samruk Kazyna. In short Samruk Kazyna is the team’s benefactor. You might have seen the Expo 2017 logo on the kit and this exhibition has come and gone. Samruk embarking on a large privatisation programme, the likes of Air Astana are up for sale.

Sovereign wealth
This has never been a team short of cash, not surprising when they’re backed by a nation-state. They’ve been up there with Team Sky, BMC and Katusha in years past as one of the big league spenders and it was not long ago they had Nibali, Aru and Landa plus Fuglsang and more on the roster. Even when the team’s licence was in jeopardy the funding never seemed in question.

Funded for 2018?
Why is the money drying up? It’s not clear. Teams must to prove funding as a fundamental condition of their licence: rule 2.15.069 bis says the UCI’s auditors must review “essential documents” including “the sponsorship contracts duly signed with the main partners”. So in order to get their licence for 2018 the Astana team will satisfied the UCI auditors and the Licence Commission. This suggests the contract was in place but the cash hasn’t shown up. If true enforcing the contract isn’t easy, to launch legal action against your sponsors is to start sawing the branch you’re sitting on.

Astana is a Kazakh team by branding but legally it’s a business run out of Luxembourg called Abacanto SA. The legal status matters because if Abacanto can’t meet its financial commitments it can be declared bankrupt and riders and others can file these charges more easily in Luxembourg than Kazakhstan.

Licensed to race… for now
Teams have to inform the UCI if their financial situation changes, a serious change of circumstances can even see the UCI review the team’s licence. Not receiving income from your principal partner seems likely to trigger this although the UCI has no interest to pull the team  from racing pre-emptively. But it will be making enquiries.

Not the first time
As a reader helpfully points out this has happened before, or something similar. In 2009 the team rode the Giro with special jerseys to protest about the lack of wages.

The Bank guarantee, the last resort
All World Tour teams post a bank guarantee with the UCI, large enough to cover three months’ wages. The UCI can’t dip into this, it can be called on if someone has a claim of an unpaid debt from the team. Triggering the payment means the end of the team twice over. First because it marks a change in the status of the team and the team’s finances are in jeopardy and so in turn is its licence. Second because riders, especially the big ones, will have contracts allowing them to walk in the event of non-payment of wages rather than leaving them tied to the same squad.

Rescue sponsor?
It’s not like there’s a line of blue chip corporates queuing to sponsor the sport and if there was few would be linking up with Astana which has had its share of doping scandals and run by a manager who could be on trial in a Belgian court next month. Still this team was itself born from the wreckage of the Liberty Seguros team engulfed by Operation Puerto, stranger things have happened.

If the money runs out
The licence is in jeopardy. The team could ride on with limited resources, after all it’s better to race than not for riders looking for a contract in 2019, to put themselves in the shop window and to keep the legs turning. Easier said than done and some riders could be poached promptly. Here’s the chart of team sizes comparing the 2017 and 2018 seasons. As you can see several squads have room to recruit (Astana don’t as they’re at the 30 rider max).

This is for cherry-picking, Katusha might fancy Alexey Lutsenko; maybe Trek-Segafredo could get their GC man in the shape of Miguel Ángel López and so on but only a few riders would be signed and they’d be lucky to transfer their existing salary.

The team says there’s only a temporary delay and perhaps Vinokourov’s public appeal will unblock the promised funding? If so this is unusual and even if the cash comes tumbling tomorrow it’ll have repercussions especially given the dire warning that the team will stop if the money doesn’t show up as promised. Already riders and their agents are starting the game of contractual musical chairs for 2019 and whether you’re a star rider, a mechanic or a masseur you’ll surely think twice about staying with the team?

Exploring the options reveals there are few. As explained above if the temporary shortfall can’t be plugged then things can go south fast, the bank guarantee isn’t an overdraft but a last resort and riders will be contractually free to move if their wages don’t come through.

49 thoughts on “Astana’s Financial Alert”

  1. Could “Heinie’s Folly” now be too expensive even for the rich oligarch/corrupt government sponsor class? We hear rumors of BMC’s demise while Quick-Step scraped up sponsorship for this year at the last minute and one wonders if Brailsford’s soon-to-be new moneymen at Disney will continue to pony up the ridiculous sums needed to be World Tour, especially if SKY’s clean-cycling charade suffers total collapse? Silly-season 2018 might be extra silly.

    • Sponsors might come and go and the sport can be expensive or offer value for sponsors but this is more about a team supposed to ride for 2018 but the manager has said it may have to stop if the money doesn’t show up.

    • The amount of money is trivial for the oligarchs of Kazakhstan. But of course it could be that Vinokourov’s sponsor’s has fallen out of favor with the regime. That’s the problem with being the hobby project of one particular oligarch or sheik.

      • It’s trivial but also Samruk is a business too: does the team generate good publicity, offer the right kind of marketing, enable contacts, develop Kazakh athletes. In short is a pro team value for money too? But this is a longer term concept, in the meantime will the promised cash show up? This doesn’t look good for business.

        • A quick online search reveals that Kazakhstan seems to be a popular and good place for Summer tourist cycling, and Astana’s inclusion in the WT has surely proved central to that business.
          Although apparently after the initial bad publicity garnered by Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character, that too helped to open up the country’s tourism trade!

    • The mention of Quickstep sponsorship reminds me that I do not know what happened there. Quickstep seemed to go from ‘we have no sponsor for 2018’ in the middle of 2017 to business as usual by the end of 2017. Did I miss the background story or has it never come out? Is the current sponsorship deal for more than 12 months?

    • Larry – Of course, there’s just as much instability at the top of cycling than ever before. Teams come and go, are at risk every single season, and there are virtually zero mechanisms in place to act as a floor to ensure that if a team’s backer falls out, they can continue on in some form for 1-2 seasons as in top pro leagues.

      As Inrng points out, the 3-month salary bank draft is nothing more than an emergency measure. It does nothing to protect the stability of the team. All it does is keep the payroll afloat until most of them can find jobs outside the sport.

      Cycling needs structural changes and reform.

  2. As all things finance based with cycling its a game of chance and smoke and mirrors, but i would be interested to see the impact FC Astana, the Kazakh league club has made, they have won the league 4 years in a row and are regularly appearing in Europe and including champions league 3 years in a row )(qualifying rounds then bounced to europa league)
    Would this give the country a better return for their investment in advertising (which essentially the teams are) if they made it one stage further you could get Messi playing at there ground.
    There away kit has near as dammit been the same as the cycling kit.

    • Normally no, permission is needed from the team you leave, the team you join (obviously) and a UCI committee has to say approve the transfer otherwise it is breaking a contract. But if your wages are not paid it’s a different story, then it could be possible but only after some time.

  3. Astana has always had a quality rider lineup, but, boy is it hard to root for them. They are the perfect example of how cycling can close an eye and look the the other way. Sky rightlfully get creamed daily, but a team lead by Vino just rolls along. I feel for the riders and staff, but Astana and Vino can go. This is what we are reduced to in the World Tour, hoping an unsavory oligarch continues to support this team, or a worthy group of riders and and staff loose their jobs.

    • You’re spot on with this and, as Larry says, the WorldTour has become ridiculously expensive, although I’m not sure how that could be changed now, as some very rich teams would still be around.
      There are a lot of unsavoury team owners/sponsors now and I think that’s a product of cycling’s doping reputation: would you want your company associated with this sport?
      Cycling needs to go above and beyond WADA’s rules and have a lot less tolerance for ‘grey areas’. Until it does that, a lot of sponsors are going to stay away.

    • Astana received its good share of then-proven-unfounded bashing when the political conditions were different, while Sky, until very recent times, hasn’t suffered any special mistreatment by the UCI – quite the other way around (and cycling is probably going to pay a price for that). The pressure on Sky, if anything, came mainly from media and peers within the peloton.
      However, I must admit that Vino was so classy a cyclist that I’d forgive him for more or less evertything…

      • Its easy to look classy when you have blood that could fuel a car. ‘Vino’ is the only person who challenges Armstrong in my eyes as the ultimate cycling villain.

        • Not to mention how he won some of his big races: I didn’t see him and Kolobnev at LBL, but have a look at how long Uran sits and watches Vino attack (unless he has no peripheral vision) at the end of the 2012 Olympics race before making a half-hearted attempt to follow. I’ve never seen something so blatant: Uran sits for literally seconds whilst Vino rides off (although that makes Uran just as much of the villain in that piece).

          • I wouldn’t exclude that Vino bought that, but your report is far from being accurate and shows a little lack of “racing imagination”.
            Firstly, Vino was purposedly blocking Urán’s vision of the road behind, that is, the pack’s distance, after having kept the Colombian on the front with the pressure to establish how slowly they could afford to go (when two riders are up there like that, the one on the front tries to go slower and slower in order to keep powders dry or to force otherwise the other guy to pass ahed).
            When you’re in such uncomfortable position, you feel the urge to check where the bunch is, especially if it’s the Olympics and any metal might look good.
            You can see from the front take that Urán tries repeatedly to watch behind on his right but he always find Vino blocking his line of sight. Note how Vino doesn’t sit exactly on Urán’s wheel, in order to create such a situation.
            Eventually, Urán watches on the other side, and that’s when Vino goes.
            He’s got nearly two secs before Urán’s head turns and his peripheral vision can include the Kazakh (he’s also moving further away). You also need to check the above shot: Vino’s advantage is the acceleration he grows when he’s still *a bit behind* Urán.
            Urán needs perhaps one sec to react. Which can look a lot, but sure isn’t “sitting for literally seconds”.
            And here you’ve got the other key factor in Vino’s move. He goes when the line is over 200m away. That’s a lot for a sprint, and any rider who isn’t a specialist will doubt to go from that far out, which explains both why Urán felt so relatively confident not having his eyes on Vino constantly at that point and why he hesitated to launch his own sprint.
            Again: I wouldn’t be surprised if info came out confirming that Vino bought that. Let me give you a little “conspiracy gift”: after the flamme rouge, Vino throws his bottle away, then the two look like they’re exchanging a couple of words, or looks. Maybe that’s the moment when the race was won.
            But they enacted the final sprint more decently than you seem to have understood. Of course, if one wins and another loses, the loser maybe did some mistake.
            But it’s not like Urán’s mistakes didn’t make any sense at all as you portrait them.
            Besides, Urán hasn’t proven himself throughout his career as a rider gifted with what’s called killer instinct, unlike Vino. In such a situation, Vino is the most likely winner precisely because he knows how to play them out. Vino’s got some 29 victories for some 25 2nd places (not including TTs and GC,s obviously), Urán’s score says 9-12.

          • Once again people have a huge double standard against the more recent riders. Vino didn’t invent the concept of buying races, it’s a really old tradition and many of your favourites from the past may have done it. Don’t say I’m slinging mud without any proof… because it’s a well known tradition and obviously winnings in the past was all cash, untraceable.

            The only thing I’d really fault Vino for is sending an electronic cash transfer… c’mon he may be classy but sending a bribe through a traceable bank transaction is pretty thick!

            Either way, Vino is far from the world of cycling’s second worst villain. He came from a very humble background and made a big name for himself. Hats off to him.

          • Well, people can look and decide for themselves: for me, I don’t believe Uran can sit there for over a second (hence ‘literally seconds’) looking ahead and not see what is 90 degrees to his side, unless he has different eyes from other people. And that’s if he hasn’t heard/felt Vino attack past him. (Never mind that even an amateur would know to ride at the barriers and look over the other shoulder, rather than conveniently looking over the shoulder opposite the side Vino is on – and keeping his head back there for an abnormal length of time.)

          • J Evans, when Vino is 90º it’s already too late, nearly 2″ did *already* pass and from then on it’s less than a second. Besides, over 60º you can’t properly judge distance or speed, and 90º is very close to the *extreme* limit of *far* peripheral visions of most people, which is at around 95º. Few gifted persons can get over 100º at most. And wearing sunglasses makes things hugely worse.
            I wasn’t there in London but I suspect that the crowds and the motos didn’t make it exactly silent. You don’t ride the barrier on your left side and watch that same side to try and see the bunch, you risk to fall for the little bike swing which usually comes with turning your head and you’d probably see nothing. Besides, if the rider behind you isn’t sitting on your wheel but is doing a slight mezzaruota, instead, you don’t need the barrier to cover one of the sides from the attack because the rival only can go where your back wheel isn’t. You ride the barrier when people sit right on your wheel.
            Let me insist: I won’t defend the race wasn’t bought, but it’s way far from blatant. Your arguments look like you already decided what happened and try to push thing (more than one second is ‘seconds’ even if it isn’t even 2 secs; 90º of peripheral vision etc.) in order to feel sure about something which is far from being manifest.
            Another example: sure, when he looks on his left, the gaze is longer than the fast ones on the right side – obviously, with the latter he only saw that he couldn’t see what he wanted to check out!
            Vino choose a good moment especially because when you’re slightly over 200 to go, that’s too late for a classical finisseur attack, but it’s too soon to launch a sprint. You’re thinking about a pure sprint to the line which will be launched in 50 meters at least and that probably made Urán feel a bit safer than it was opportune.
            To also answer to your comment below, my point is watching is that:
            – it’s interesting that the bribe possibility exist, but we actually can’t be sure, unless our prejudices had us making our mind about it in the first place;
            – the race doesn’t lose all of its technical elements, just one – the two-men sprint. In exchange, you get a little poker playing and character insight and a vague but fine metaphor about life, money, decisions, capitalism and whatever else encased in a little sport narrative. I’m fine with that. That sort of mix is one of the reasons because of which I like cycling so much (as I said, I’d hate it if it became a commonplace practice like in tennis or in football).

          • Vino is in front of him to the right and within his peripheral vision and it’s longer than a second (so ‘seconds’ is correct – more than one equals plural: 1.01 seconds is ‘seconds’, ergo it’s not ‘1.01 second’). I’m not judging that by who is involved, conspiracy theories or anything else – only what I can see with my own eyes: not just Uran’s behaviour – moving away from the barriers to the middle of the road, looking behind him away from Vino and doing so for an unnecessarily long time, weirdly not checking at all where Vino is, not feeling Vino whoosh past him (possible, but unlikely) – but most of all, when Vino is in front of him and to the right (it’s less than 90 degrees) Uran somehow doesn’t spot him; and despite being in a race against one other person never once checks where that one other person is.
            You can never be 100% sure, but for Uran to have done all of those things is beyond coincidental. I think you’re the one clutching at straws here.
            Personally, a fixed race is a non-race and I blame Uran for that more than Vino.

          • @J Evans
            No. From the above shot you can see clearly that Vino only gets on the same line as Urán (at 90º when compared to their direction) immediately before Urán turns his head to the right, probably as a consequence of seeing Vino in his extreme peripheral visione, then starting to chase more or less in the same moment. The ahead shot, which is the first one which was broadcast, gives you a wrong impression, as if Vino was beside Urán well before he actually was.
            That’s why you attack from behind, you’ve already made it (or not) when you’re on the same line as your rivals because of the difference in acceleration.
            But, hey, whatever, I’m not going to try and convince you about something which I believe can’t actually be determined.
            Since you’re 100% sure, you won’t ever be convinced by a person who’s Schrödingerian on the subject.
            What I saw from your comments is just that you simply didn’t get most of what was happening (besides having confused ideas about how peripheral vision work 😛 ), but that doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. Actually, it can be what makes you right, in case you are. As a general law, the less you see, the more you know (or was it the other way around? 😉 )… and I’m serious about it.

          • You seem bizarrely convinced that whilst you are so open-minded I am ‘100% sure’, despite me already saying: ‘You can never be 100% sure’.

            The video on youtube is entitled:
            Cycling – Road Race – Men | London 2012 Olympic Games

            And you can see on this video (from above):

            5:56:20 – Vino attacks – at that point, Uran has finished his long look behind (over the wrong shoulder) and is looking ahead.

            5:56:23 – Uran turns his head towards Vino, who is directly alongside. (Uran has also, for no good reason other than to prevent him getting onto Vino’s slipstream it seems, drifted to the left, away from Vino.)

            5:56:24 – Uran remains seated and is not moving in Vino’s direction, which is odd.

            5:56:25 – Uran – finally – gives chase. (He’s still only about a bike length behind, but he does so slowly enough for Vino to pull many metres on him. Uran’s cadence is weirdly slow.)

            (BTW, at 5:56:00, you see that Vino and Uran attacked at precisely the same time – but that’s fair enough that they could have arranged that.)

            Either is the most clueless sprinter of all time – with the catalogue of basic errors I mention elsewhere, or he had a reason to add in this very strange manner.

            Incidentally, human eyes have evolved so that they pick up movement in their peripheral vision more than anything else. I know this from my degree in physiology, but then all of us know this from our own experience.

          • Let’s watch it again, and let’s split seconds, too!
            I swear I’ll stop this here ^__^
            5:56:19 – Vino is already attacking, while Urán is looking somewhere else 😉
            You see this better at 5:52:30. As soon as Urán watches on the left, Vino stands and attacks (and in this first half of 5:52:31 Urán is still watching on his left, then he turns right exactly at 5:52:33).
            And. Urán is already pushing hard at 5:56:24, you can see him clearly out of the saddle (tree branches photogram).
            The race was won in those first two seconds. When Vino got alongside Urán, it was already too late (it probably was even before). He shouldn’t ever have watched left. He had reasons to do that, and that makes it credible; but he didn’t did it the best way, which gives room for suspect. For sure, it’s far from blatant. It’s about fractions of secs, not about anomalous behaviour.
            In tennis, it wouldn’t be an unforced error, either. Vino did (or enacted) several specific actions to have Urán behave as he did – and I’m not strictly referring to money transfer ^__^

        • No, it’s not that easy at all.

          I could make a long list of riders who were as doped (or more) and never looked as classy, not even by far; even more so given that my definition of “classy” is quite much about aspects which are only marginally affected by doping – I could even go as far as to say that part of it is about winning when you’re not the physically strongest rider on the road. Even Lance (who wasn’t an awful rider, anyway) rarely looked “classy” when he was on the top of his game. He looked brutally strong – more or less proportionally to the way he was brutally juiced.

          And Vinokourov never was in Lance’s position: although he found himself in a privileged situation from a national POV, unlike most of the peloton, all the same he never was granted any especially favourable treatment by international authorities (quite the other way around, in at least one case).
          OTOH, I’ll acknowledge you have a point if we think how Vino was able to gather more personal responsibility, for good or ill, assuming an active role in cycling. Yet, he never came close to Armstrong’s level of influence.
          However, we still don’t know if Vinokourov was pushing others to dope. In that sense Riis could perhaps be seen as a step above (besides being a rider for whom extreme doping was much more decisive in career terms).
          I’d also need to know if “cycling villain” must be “a villain in cycling” or “a villain who rides a bicycle”. In the former case, I wouldn’t underrate Kelme’s staff, or guys like Matschiner.

          Look, Matt White is a lovely character but his career is exemplar… not in the best meaning of the word. From one systematic-doping team to the next, then as a DS always being sacked for unpleasant doping histories. And look how cleaned up does his image appear today. Cyclingnews doesn’t bother in telling you about his past every time they name him as they do with other riders or ex riders.
          It’s easy to believe that the ultimate villain is the one which is just drawn that way. But you’d need some more arguments.

          PS Obviously, trading races with another rider doesn’t look that bad to me ^__^
          I prefer it not being the norm, but it’s a colourful custom, from time to time. Sort of cycling tradition – and, again, it’s common practice – even if Vino’s being singled out about it.
          But I’ll admit that if this sort of things matters very much for you, here you might have got some solid “villain points” to sum up.

          • I’m not singling out Vino for anything – and don’t think he’s worse than anyone else in terms of doping (I don’t know about race-buying) – I’m against people buying races because it makes a farce of the sport, i.e. watching Uran ride for the entire last km, Vino having had a word, and then move to the middle of the road, from the barriers, before conveniently ‘un-seeing’ Vino’s, frankly lacklustre, attack.
            Even if that is a ‘tradition’, it still makes a mockery of the sport and the audience – what’s the point in watching?
            I only chose Vino because the article was about him and I don’t know of film of any other such blatant examples.

  4. Oil producing countries have suffered recently due to slack oil prices, and, as a result, pet projects funded by oil money have shriveled on the vine (or vino, so to speak). So facing shortfalls is not unexpected. But as Inrng points out, the public display of angst by Vino and the team shows that some other behind-the-scenes machinations are afoot in the land of the mighty Kazakhs.

  5. ….or this could be a Vino just playing games. His upcoming court case is a fair indication of the sort of dealings he’s willing to undertake.

  6. You’re close with Abacanto – think CAATSA and UST 311 – also the hockey team has let go all the expensive Canadian journeymen recently –

  7. If astana wanted to end sponshoship, this seems a strange way to do it. Maximum controversy guaranteed. I sense some conflict in the background. Both sides producing heat atm

    • Agree. If they wanted out then getting bad press at the same time is not the way to go about it. Particularly as the whole point of the team is to generate a good image of Astana/Kazakhstan.

      Plus given the size of the parent company, a short term cash flow problem would be very unlikely. A case of politics and egos is suspect.

  8. Not Astanas first financial crisis. They had another scare in 2009 amid Kazakhstans financial crisis, with staff going unpaid through a month or two around the Giro. Ultimately amid pressure from riders, notably the Armstrong headed sub-group of ex-Discovery names, the money did eventually appear and with a re-organization shortly after the team carried on.
    There are similarities in the two instances, but this one coming without the external financial crisis at home. Vino did a good job to keep the team running in the end back then, and like in 2009 perhaps the public appeal and pressure will release the money.

    I wouldn’t be too sad if Astana folded, but i would be very sympathetic to a number of riders who will be out of work through no fault of their own. Ideally the team will stay funded through the rest of the season, giving these riders stability and time to set-up new contracts for 2019. Before Astana quietly goes away in the winter, helping the sport rid a bit more of it’s damaged past.

  9. I’m sure Kazakhstan’s coffers can cover it in this case but in general terms the expansion of the World Tour (and the professional cycling calendar in general) to its current morbidly obese state, where teams can be racing in 3 events in one day sometimes on different continents, can not have helped matters with team budgets. Something has to give and a calendar that makes vague sense would be a decent start. I’ve always chuckled a bit at Larry’s Heienes Folly digs but that’s the way its looking at the moment. maybe a situation whereby pro teams race largely in their own countries/areas apart from a few major races wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

    The way this has panned out, whereby it looks like the money was guaranteed for 2018 so that they could get the licence but is now not forthcoming smacks of somebody being punished or falling out with the regime.

  10. A conversation we had with J Evans on this site in 2015:
    J Evans: I’m still despairing at Uran’s silver in the last Olympics – he ignored me in the final few hundred metres shouting ‘Don’t let Vino just ride behind you’ and ‘You’re looking the wrong way, he’s going to jump you… oh too late’.
    ZigaK: Vino would outsprint Uran 99 out of 100 tries, …
    J Evans: Indeed probably so, but Uran still ballsed it up royally.

      • Yes, my initial reaction was he messed it up and I still thought that in 2015, having not watched it since.
        After watching it again a few times, I’ve changed my mind.
        Why would you have a problem with that? Do you honestly consider it wrong or stupid to change one’s mind?

  11. Re: race buying
    From the excelent review by Feargal McKay over at podium cafe:

    “Anquetil won the Grand Prix de Lugano seven times, I think. After he’d won it six times, the organiser said to him it would be better if he didn’t come back next year, as he was finding it difficult to get sponsors because Anquetil kept winning. Then in the winter, he changed his mind and said he could come after all, as he was a star, an important rider, but if he were to let [Ercole] Baldini win, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. ‘I’ve got nothing against you. It’s for the good of cycling,’ the organiser explained. Anquetil said, ‘OK, but you have to pay me at the start. I don’t want to wait around after to be paid and have to face the journalists. And it’s double the normal rate. If not, I won’t come.’ It was all agreed, but when he arrived he went to see Baldini and said, ‘Listen, don’t say anything to the organisers, but if you want to win today, you must give me your appearance money.’ Baldini agreed and gave him the money up front, so he took all three fees, and he went and won the race. Just for a laugh. It was just a game to him. He got on really well with Baldini. They were very good friends. In fact, Baldini is still a good friend of [Anquetil’s widow] Jeanine. It wasn’t about the money for Anquetil. It was about having fun. Anquetil just wanted to have fun.”

Comments are closed.