Italian cycling champ boosts Kazakhstan

Hollywood unleashed Borat on Kazakhstan's image, so the oil-rich Central Asian nation hit back with Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali and it believes his Tour de France victory helps put the record straight.

Italian cycling champ boosts Kazakhstan
Vincenzo Nibali finished safely in the peloton to succeed Briton Chris Froome as Tour champion. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

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 – 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 team's tribulations with drug-tainted riders and financial crises could have reinforced the reputation built by Sacha Baron Cohen's 2006 mocking documentary "Borat: Cultural

Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

The country ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 also struggles with a poor human rights image.

"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 (€11.17 million) 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.

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