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UCI gives Astana May 31 deadline

LANCE Armstrong's Astana team has been given a deadline of May 31 to straighten out its financial crisis or risk being suspended.

Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel said on Monday that the International Cycling Union (UCI) sent a warning letter to Kazakhstan's cycling federation.

"That's the deadline to arrange the whole financial situation. If it's not taken care of by then, the letter says that the team will be suspended," Bruyneel said. "At least we're going to be able to finish the Giro."

The Giro d'Italia, which Armstrong is racing for the first time, ends on May 31.

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.

Armstrong indicated last week that he was talking to US-based sponsors about taking over the team himself. That may be his only solution if he wants to go for an eighth Tour de France title in July.

Alessandro Petacchi took over as Giro leader after timing his burst to perfection and winning the third stage on Monday.

The LPR sprinter, who also took Sunday's second stage, crossed the line in 4 hours 45 minutes and 27 seconds after the lead changed hands several times in the final minutes. Tyler Farrar of the United States was second on the stage and is second overall for Garmin Slipstream while Armstrong lies fifth in the general standings.

The 198-kilometer mainly flat stage from Grado in northeast Italy to Valdobbiadene favored the sprinters but Britain's Mark Cavendish dropped back and could not hang on to the pink jersey. A group of five riders had led for most of the way but were swallowed by the peleton after 163 km.


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