25 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams15 - Astana

The Kazakhstan backed Astana had a crash in pre-Tour training in Tenerife on the 16th  that affected Jakob Fugslang, Andriy Givko and Assan Bazayev. Grivko was the worst affecting breaking his wrist. In the end caution was the better part of valour and Grivko is not going to be in the team which comprises 4 Kazakhs, 2 Italians, 2 Nordic riders and a Slovenian.

Dane Jakob Fuglsang will be the leader after a falling out with the Radioshack team last season. Knee injuries kept him from being the leader of the Giro squad but he fell out with the management before the Tour and was excluded from both the other Grand Tours. Therefore his last GT appearance was when he came 11th in the 2011 Vuelta. So he wasn't able to wear the Danish national time trial jersey he won last June in any Grand Tours, although he did win the Tour of Austria while in dispute with his old team. This season with Astana he has come 6th in the Vuelta a Andalucia, 11 in the Volta a Catalunya and 4th in the Critérium du Dauphine. He will probably be aiming to beat the only Schleck who is in the race, Andy, to show that he should have been given more chances in the Radioshack team.

The first of the Kazakhs is Assan Bazayev who has been with Astana since their formation in 2007. This will however be his first Tour, though has taken part the Vuelta 5 times and the Giro twice, completing all but his last Vuelta. He has been the Kazakh national road race champion twice in 2008 and 2012. In 2010 he managed his best showing in the world championships coming 8th, he previously been 14th in 2008. The pale blue of Astana can usually still be seen in the mountains in numbers and Bazayev is one of those riders who can provide support in the early stages of the tough mountains.

Janez Brajkovič was the 2010 winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné while he was with Radioshack, his reward was selection for his first Tour in which he road mainly in support of Lance Armstrong. Last year riding for himself he managed 9th place in the Tour. He followed that up with 5th in the US Pro Cycling Challenge. His results this year having been anywhere near the standard of his Tour efforts last year, though his last outing in the Tour de Suisse did see him come in 14th. He'll be able to provide valuable support for Fuglsang if he gets his legs back.

Italian Enrico Gasparotto had a good time in the Ardennes Classics last year. He started by winning the Amstel Gold Race, followed by 11th in La Flèche Wallonne then a 3rd place in Liège–Bastogne–Liège. That Amstel win was particularly special as he attacked before the final ascent of the Cauberg and managed to hold off the fast finishing Peter Sagan, who finished third, and the rest from the pack who were approaching fast at the line. This year he again was top 10 in both the Amstel Gold and  Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He is another rider who is making his Tour debut although it will be his 10th Grand Tour.

Fellow Italian Francesco Gavazzi is appearing in his second Tour, his previous appearance being 2010. He has a Grand Tour stage win to his name having won stage 18 of the 2011 edition of the Vuelta. It came after the last big mountain stage and the escape was allowed to stay away from the GC contenders. Last year he came second in the Tour of Beijing but he'll be in this team to help the team leader as much as he can.

Andrey Kashenchkin was one of the Astana riders who tested positive after the 2007 Tour, in which he had been lying 8th when Astana withdrew the whole team after Alexander Vinokourov tested positive. Kashenchkin's positive test led to him being dropped by the team and when he returned after his two year ban he rode for Lampre. He was released by Lampre during the 2011 season and re-signed by Astana in time to ride in the Vuelta that year, in which he failed to impress. His best Grand Tour result was coming 3rd in the 2006 Vuelta. Since his return he has not shown the form he had before his doping offence.

Sweden's Fredrik Kessiakoff had a close battle last year with Tommy Voeckler for the King of the Mountain's jersey in what was his Tour debut. They both held it twice after Chris Froome gave it up, with Voeckler taking it on Stage 16 and not giving it up on the last day with big mountains. He went on to that the ITT stage in the Vuelta before coming 5th in the World Championship TT and 3rd in the Milan-Torino semi-classic. He has already completed this year's Giro so he is looking to complete his 4th straight Grand Tour.

Aleksey Lutsenko is just 20 years old and only Danny Van Poppel (VCD) is younger of those declared so far. The young Kazakh is the current under 23 Road Race World Champion and in 2010 won the Asian junior Road Race title and 2nd in the continental time trial junior champion. This season he was 5th in the Mountain Classification of the Criterium du Dauphiné.

Finally the fourth Kazakh Dmitriy Muravyev has been the national road race champion back in 2002 and Time Trial champion 3 years from 2003-5. When Astana was formed he was one of the original members and helped Contador and the team to wins in 2009. When Johan Bruyneel moved to Radioshack he was the only Kazakh to move with the director. He returned in 2012. This will be his 4th Tour.

Fuglsang is out to prove a point in this season's race having sat out all the Grand Tour's last year. He has a good bunch of riders around him some of who have proven in the past that they can ride the mountains. The climbing ability of young Aleksey Lutsenko is something to be watched as far as the white jersey goes. If he can keep up with the likes of Rolland (EUR) and  Van Garderen (BMC) at least for some of the tough stages he may well be a future winner of that classification.

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