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Astana riders blank out sponsor's name in protest
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Lance Armstrong rides in an altered Astana jersey during Friday's stage.
By: Reuters

Lance Armstrong rides in an altered Astana jersey during Friday's stage.

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CHIAVENNA, Italy -- Lance Armstrong and all but one of his Astana teammates protested at unpaid salaries by blanking out the sponsor's name on their shirts for Friday's seventh stage of the Giro d'Italia.

Team members were not paid salaries last month and the International Cycling Union (UCI) has said Astana's Pro-Tour license could be withdrawn if the problem continues.

"We don't want to pretend that everything is okay. It's not okay. The riders only received two months of salary in 2009. I hope the shirt change will provoke an effect," team manager Johan Bruyneel told reporters.

"We will race with these (blanked-out) shirts until everything is fixed."

Seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong of the United States is considering taking over the struggling team.

The only member of the team not to join the protest was Andrey Zeits, who is from Astana's home nation Kazakhstan.

"May 31st is the UCI deadline for Kazakh Cycling Federation to make sure everything is in order. I hope they can do that. If not, it will be up to the UCI to see what will happen."

The 37-year-old, racing in his first Giro having recovered from a broken collarbone, looks out of contention after starting Friday's stage from Innsbruck in Austria to the Italian town of Chiavenna over four minutes behind leader Danilo Di Luca in 25th place.

His teammate and compatriot Levi Leipheimer is better positioned for overall victory as he started stage seven 43 seconds behind Di Luca in fourth.