Tour de France 2012 Team Preview: Astana

Photo copyright Pro Team Astana

Astana has recorded some rather unexpected results so far this season—for better and for worse. On the bright side, Enrico Gasparotto and Maxim Iglinsky won the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, respectively. On the other hand, Roman Kreuziger underwhelmed at the Giro d’Italia, failing to contend for the overall and instead having to settle for a “too-little, too-late” stage victory.

Kreuziger’s taking a planned break in his season, and will be skipping the Tour – but enfant terrible Alexandre Vinokourov will be riding.  After crashing out of last year’s race, Vino is back for what should really be his final Tour de France. Then again, we’ve heard riders say that before, and Vino loves the limelight. Vino’s done little to indicate he’ll be a factor at this year’s Tour de France—which is a shame in a way, as the parcours actually suits his riding style and skillset. Instead, we’ll likely see the 38-year-old working for Janez Brajkovic while targeting a few stages for himself—all in preparation for the Olympic games later this summer.

As for Brajkovic, the Slovenian joined his new teammate in crashing out of last year’s Tour before we had a chance to see how he would handle himself in a grand tour. Remember: this is the rider who simply dominated the 2010 Criterium du Dauphiné before being sent to the Tour in order to support Lance Armstrong in his final Grand Boucle. This year, Brajkovic has enjoyed a quiet string of high finishes in his Tour build-up, including top-10 rides at the Tour of Romandie and the Dauphiné before taking the overall victory in his home tour less than 10 days ago. Assuming he can avoid the bad luck he experienced last season, Brajkovic could easily finish inside the top-10 in Paris.

In the end, stage wins and a top-10 GC finish would be the ideal scenario for Astana, a team that might look to transfer market to find a true GC contender to fill the void created by Alberto Contador’s departure two seasons ago.

Man of the Hour

No matter what anyone ever says, this team is all about Alexandre Vinokourov—at least when he races. While a challenge for a high GC finish is unlikely, there are several stages that have likely been dog-eared in his Livre du Course. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win at least one stage.

On the Hot Seat

Brajkovic created quite a stir when he defeated Contador and stacked field to win the 2010 Dauphiné. Unfortunately, he’s done little since. This year he’s healthy, in-form, and has the full support of his team. There should be nothing stopping us from seeing what he’s really capable of doing.

Up-and-Comer

Robert Kiserlovski finished tenth for Liquigas in the 2010 Giro d’Italia—at 23 years old. After moving to Astana with Roman Kreuziger last season, the young Croat failed to repeat the result, perhaps because more was expected of him as Kreuziger’s lieutenant. This year he rides his first Tour de France and could find himself as his team’s best GC candidate if Brajkovic falls short.

Unsung Hero

Andriy Grivko is usually happy to ride for others—except during the last weekend in June—at his National Championships, that is. This year the Ukranian rider doubled-up, winning both the road race and time trial in Bila Tserkva.

Follow Whit on Twitter at @whityost

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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