Interview: After the finish of 2019 season and at the start of the preparation for the upcoming 2020 season the general manager of Astana Pro Team Alexandr Vinokurov talks about overall results of the season, evaluates performances of the team leaders and progress of the Kazakh riders and accentuates the importance of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
It was a very interesting and intense season for Astana Pro Team. Can you sum up the overall results of this year?
I think that the main conclusion of this season is that we are able to achieve victories not by one or two leaders, but by the whole team. More than half of the riders of the team have tasted a victory this year and it is a very significant result, which suggests that the team is becoming more universal and diverse. If we talk about other results, it is worth noting our 12 GC victories: it is an impressive result, an excellent achievement for Astana Pro Team. And, of course, our 40 seasonal wins, taking into account the performances of our riders for the national teams, is a very serious achievement. Also, it is nice that the team entered the Top 5 of the UCI World Team ranking, while Jacob Fuglsang became 3rd in the Individual ranking. It is important to note Alexey Lutsenko, who is gaining momentum and is coming really close to the best of the best riders of the world.
Astana Pro Team has changed a lot this year. What is the secret: luck, technical support or, maybe, off-season transfer campaign?
Most likely, the question is not that the team has changed, but that all the work that has been done in previous years has begun to pay off. A close-knit squad and a great atmosphere in the team also played a role. All the staff and Astana’s management managed to establish a good and high-quality work, while the riders immediately felt it, so the wins came shortly after the start of the season. Indeed, this was a successful year for us, but we worked a lot for that. Therefore, I heartily congratulate the whole management and our staff of Astana Pro Team. Of course, I want to thank all our sponsors and partners for this great season! Special thanks to our general partner “Samruk-Kazyna” for continuing supporting Astana Pro Team and domestic cycling. In the pre-Olympic year, this support is especially important.
Can you evaluate the transfer campaign led by the team in the autumn of 2018? Who of the newcomers showed himself the most successful?
We did a very good job during the transfer period last year and a lot of strong and talented riders came to the team. Who was the most successful? I guess it’s Ion and Gorka Izaguirre, two brothers who, in my opinion, had a very decent season. For some reasons they could not show all their potential in the previous team, but this season they showed themselves very well. In general, the whole team was on a winning streak from the start of the year, and Ion and Gorka have supported this success.
Jakob Fuglsang wins Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2019
Which is the biggest success for you in just ended season?
It is difficult to single out only one victory, all of them were amazing and memorable. For example, a great success of Alexey Lutsenko at the Tour of Oman, where he won three stages and the general classification – it was something special! Also, Jakob Fuglsang’s victory at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the memorable descent in the final of that race, when everyone, I think, heart skipped a beat. There were other beautiful achievements: for example, the successes of Miguel Angel Lopez in Catalonia and Ion Izaguirre on his home race Itzulia Basque County. In both races, the intrigue persisted until the very end, and victories were obtained in a beautiful and uncompromising sports fight.
Jakob Fuglsang wins Critérium du Dauphiné
Can you estimate the performances of the team leaders in 2018? Jakob Fuglsang? Miguel Angel Lopez? Alexey Lutsenko?
Jakob had a very successful season with a lot of big achievements: the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Critérium du Dauphiné, a stage at the Vuelta a España. Jakob worked this season really well. Miguel Angel Lopez also tasted some solid successes, for example at the Volta a Catalunya and at the Tour of Colombia. The Giro d’Italia, of course, stands apart, there was a moment of huge bad luck in this race. At the Vuelta it looked like everything was going well for Miguel Angel, we have gained a very beautiful team’s victory at the start of the race. But, in the end it did not work out as we expected, a few crashes also impacted our result. Of course, I would like to see Lopez on the podium of La Vuelta this year, but, in any case, he had a good season. Alexey, on the contrary, got almost everything: 10 wins, Top 25 in the UCI World Individual ranking, a victory at the Tour of Oman and an unforgettable success at the dramatic crash-marred stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. The end of the season was also successful for him with two excellent victories at the Italian classics, which perfectly completed his magnificent season. Perhaps the World Championships was a bit out of the picture, but there was a completely different story due to weather conditions, the race just did not work out. But we have the Olympics in Tokyo next year, so let’s hope that everything will turn out better there.
What do you think about Alexey Lutsenko’s progress? Is it exactly what Astana Pro Team was looking for? What are the most important factors of this success? What can we expect from him in the future?
One of our main goals is the development of domestic riders, and what we are striving for is to grow another Olympic champion from Kazakhstan. And Alexey is performing in the best possible way so far. Lutsenko has everything to get to the top of our sport one day. However, sport is sport, we do not make any big statements, but simply continue working in the chosen direction. I think that Alexey is ripe for big victories, he feels that he is able to fight on equal terms with all the leaders of the world’s cycling. This year turned out very successful for Lutsenko, but, I hope, the following season will be even better.
The best of Alexey Lutsenko
Can you evaluate the season of other Kazakh riders of the team?
Besides Alexey Lutsenko, a number of other Kazakh riders show impressive growth, the guys seriously improve and this year it was noticeable. For example, Yuriy Natarov surprised all of us at the Tour of Almaty, he achieved a very nice victory. Zhandos Bizhigitov improves a lot, he becomes an excellent professional rider, a class assistant, and he repeatedly demonstrated that in different races, including the Asian Championships. Nikita Stalnov is on a good path as well. This year he could not join the Grand tour squad, although, for example for the Giro he was perfectly ready. But the team had a slightly different program there. Well, in general, he is a strong rider, a good assistant in the mountains. Like Daniil Fominykh, for example. The guys are ready to try, to attack, to fight for their own result, but, in the same time, they always give their 100% for such a leader as Alexey Lutsenko. Yevgeniy Gidich has also spent a good season. He won the Asian Championships and brought an Olympic quote for our country. Also, the final of the season was very worthy: he won a stage in Croatia, was close to another victory. Well, the most important thing is that all our Kazakh riders had a strong season and as a result, they brought Kazakhstan to the 19th place in the UCI World National ranking and provided the country with three Olympic licenses.
Vadim Pronskiy did some races together with Astana Pro Team, what do you think about this young rider?
Already last year Vadim has proved himself very well and I think he was ready to move to the big team, but we decided not to force the things and to give him another six months at the continental level, in Vino-Astana Motors Team, where he could earn important rating points for Kazakhstan. He did a great job, so from August we invited him to the team as a trainee. In autumn, Vadim did a series of races with Astana Pro Team, has showed himself in a good way, so he is really ready for a big step into the WorldTour. We will continue to work on with him, we will help him to develop as a professional rider.
Andrey Zeits leaves the team in the end of the season, is it bad or good for the Kazakh cycling?
This is absolutely normal situation in professional cycling, when riders move from one team to another, looking for different options to continue their careers and self-realization. I think it is not bad at all that Andrey decided to continue career in another team. Especially since he goes to a very solid team. There is no reason to worry about: Andrey does not change his nationality, he remains a Kazakhstan rider, he has all chances to perform at the Olympics in Tokyo and even to compete for a high result. I am happy for Andrey; I thank him for all the years spent with us and sincerely wish him a big success in the new season.
Provisionally, Kazakhstan will have 3 spots in the road race at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Mostly, it is a merit of Astana riders. Did you feel the importance of the successful performance of the domestic riders of Astana Pro Team in this pre-Olympic season?
For us, this season was important from the point of view of the battle for the Olympic licenses. We aimed to ensure that all our Kazakh riders strive to score as many points for the country as possible. For example, we paid a special attention on the Asian Championships, as an Olympic license has been played there. We set a goal to win and this result was achieved by the efforts of the whole team. Besides that, on the continental level for Vadim Pronskiy was built a racing calendar in a way that he could perform in races where there was an opportunity to achieve a high result and, accordingly, to earn additional points. Indeed, Alexey Lutsenko brought us a lot of points, again he finished the season on the first place of the UCI Asian Individual ranking, but also other guys from our team did everything possible to ensure that Kazakhstan would get as many points as possible. Indeed, according to preliminary calculations, our country should have three quotas for the road race, and I hope this will be confirmed soon. And I am glad that the contribution of the Astana Pro Team and our riders in this matter was the decisive one.
When the preparation to the new 2020 season will go on, what are the closest plans?
In general, we have already started the preliminary preparations for the new season: the team management and a part of the staff are already in work. In the new year, we will change a few technical sponsors, so now we need to arrange and prepare a certain base in order to have all ready for the riders at the first training camp, which starts on December, 5th in Calpe, Spain. Also, we have to prepare a new design of our 2020 jersey, to pre-discuss and build a racing calendar. There is a lot of work, but everything goes according to plan.
Has Astana already completed its roster for 2020 season, or someone still could join the team? Are you happy with Astana’s transfer campaign done this year? Can you mark the most important names?
Well, I think that the team is formed already. At the moment, we have 27 riders in the roster of 2020 Astana Pro Team and it is likely that this is the final figure. Yes, we can say that we have had a good transfer campaign this season. First of all, I am happy that we have found a common language with Jakob Fuglsang, and that he remains in Astana for two more seasons. In addition, I think that two Basque riders who are coming to the team, Alex Aranburu and Oscar Rodriguez, will be able to seriously strengthen us. I would also mention Vadim Pronskiy, about whom I have already told. His progress in recent years is noticeable, and I hope that he will continue to grow in our team. Aleksandr Vlasov and Fabio Felline look very promising as well… I think that this off-season we have strengthened the team in a good way.
Astana 2020 Line-Up:
Alex Aranburu (Spa) (new)
Zhandos Bizhigitov (Kaz)
Manuele Boaro (Ita)
Hernando Bohórquez (Col)
Rodrigo Contreras Col)
Laurens De Vreese (Bel)
Fabio Felline (Ita) (new)
Omar Fraile (Spa)
Jakob Fuglsang (Den)
Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz)
Jonas Gregaard (Den)
Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz)
Hugo Houle (Can)
Gorka Izagirre (Spa)
Ion Izagirre (Spa)
Merhawi Kudus (Eri)
Miguel Ángel López (Col)
Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz)
Davide Martinelli (Ita) (new)
Yuriy Natarov (Kaz)
Vadim Pronskiy (Kaz) (new)
Óscar Rodriguez (Spa) (new)
Luis Léon Sánchez (Spa)
Nikita Stalnov (Kaz)
Harold Tejada (Col) (new)
Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) (new)
Possibly more signings.
# Thanks to Vitalii Abramov and Sven Jonker of Astana Pro Team. #