Kazakhstan wants to host Tour de France stage05 august 2014, 19:41
Nibali's triumph on the Champs Elysees on Sunday concluded an eight year campaign by his Astana Pro Team -- named after the Kazakh capital and funded by the country's sovereign wealth fund Samruk Kazyna -- to get people talking about the world's biggest landlocked nation.
"This has been a very successful project, if you took the mathematics, how many times Astana was named in social media and in newspapers and on TV," said Kairat Kelimbetov, president of Kazakh Cycling, governor of the country's central bank and a former deputy prime minister.
"The power of sport is very strong," Kelimbetov told AFP in an interview after the Tour victory by the team's star Italian rider.
"Astana is part of a big PR strategy to just give people an idea that there is a state in central Asia, that is big, the size of Western Europe, the ninth biggest in the world, and we are part of the global community," he added.
The cycling team has made global headlines with a modest budget of $15 million (11.17m euros) a year out of about $100 million a year spent on the Astana Presidential Sports Club, according to Kelimbetov.
And the Club aims to make itself seen and heard even more in cycling and other sports.
The Club has seven professional sports teams, including a $50 million a year ice-hockey squad and a football team, all with the aim of "projecting a positive image" of Kazakhstan abroad and encouraging sport at home.
"It is like a Real Madrid in Kazakhstan," said Kelimbetov.
The Astana Arlans boxing team won the inaugural World Series of Boxing title last year. The Club also supports Ilya Ilyin, a double Olympic champion weightlifter, and Denis Ten who won figure skating bronze at the Sochi Winter Olympics this year.
The cycling team was set up in 2006. The club was set up to support Kazakhstan's star rider Alexander Vinokourov who won the Tour of Spain that year for the team. After several more loud victories he completed his cycling career with a grand victory in the London 2012 Summer Olympics Mens Road Race. Vinokourov, a "national hero" in Kazakhstan, is now Astana's general manager.
Astana also signed Alberto Contador who won the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana in 2008. In 2009, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong came out of retirement and joined Astana. Contador won the 2010 Tour de France for Astana but had the title taken away after failing a drug test.
That was when Kelimbetov took control to sort out its finances and its scandals. The team set up a programme with cycling's governing body, the UCI, to avoid doping violations.
"Actually Astana was probably the first team who really started five years ago to clean up the house and we are now following all these rules," he said.
Kelimbetov said that before his arrival, the authorities had considered closing the cycling team.
As a leading voice on the Astana Presidential Sports Club, Kelimbetov said it was determined to prove that Nibali was not a one-off. "We would like this to be a long sporting story," he said.
“It’s like a joke now, but this Yorkshire experience is very interesting for us. The Tour de France has become global and cycling has become global and everyone was absolutely excited when five million people came onto the streets in England. The idea is to one day bring it to Kazakhstan. It took three years for Yorkshire to be prepared and I think we could deliver it also,” Kelimbetov said.
From 1960th Tour de France has began setting up stages abroad. Although most stages are hosted in France, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and other countries have hosted stages too.
Vincenzo Nibali of the ProTeam Astana won the 2014 Tour de France in 86 hours 37 minutes and 52 seconds. He wore race leader’s yellow jersey in 19 out of the 21 stages.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is also biding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Almaty.