Big ambitions for Kash
Confidence boosted by his stage win and third place overall in last year's Vuelta a España, Kazakh rider Andrey Kashechkin is hoping to go even better in 2007. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes heard what he has to say.
2006 was a breakthough season for Astana rider Andrey Kashechkin. Winning a mountain stage and finishing on the podium of the Vuelta was undoubtedly the highlight, but there were other results which confirmed that he had stepped up a level as regards his pro career. A stage win in Paris-Nice, victory in the national road race championships, third in the Tour of Germany, third in the Clasica San Sebastian and fifth overall in the ProTour marked him out as a big threat in both stage races and one day events. Now the increasingly confident 26-year-old is heading into the new season with bigger personal and team ambitions.
"If I participate in a race, it is to try to win it," he said at the recent team training camp in Mallorca. "The Astana cycling team's objective is to win the Grand Tours. And for me, the goal is the Vuelta.
"In 2007, I will work for Vinokourov in the Tour de France and then go for personal victory in the Tour of Spain. I know that I can achieve a top result in a race of three weeks. Riding well in the 2006 Vuelta meant that I am now more confident in myself, and I hope to have an even better season this year."
Kashechkin's determination is undoubtedly boosted by what happened four months ago in Spain. He and Vinokourov gained form as the Vuelta progressed, winning a total of four stages between them and placing first and third on the podium. It was the first ever Grand Tour victory for Vino, and the best ever result in a three week stage race for Kash.
The contrast between that and what happened in July couldn't have been more pronounced. Both riders had headed to the Tour de France hoping for big performances but were unable to ride due to the implication of several team-mates in Operación Puerto. Although neither were themselves linked to the investigation, the team was not able to field the required numbers to take part. As a result, remaining focussed and shifting ambitions to the Vuelta was an important thing for them to do.
"You know, all the time before and during the Tour de France was very hard for us," he stated. "We lost our rhythm and our sponsors were disappointed that we couldn't participate in the Tour de France. So we had to do our preparation [for the Tour of Spain] on our own. I had to make sacrifices to be at my best form and it was hard.
"But once on the Vuelta, I could show that I still was alive. I did my best in order to satisfy the sponsors from Kazakhstan. I'm very happy with my third place as a result it was a good experience."
Aside from being then the country's prime minister, Daniel Akhmetov is also a keen cycling fan and a key figure behind the securing of sponsorship for the new-look squad. He attended the Vuelta, arriving just in time for Vinokourov's back to back wins on stages eight and nine, and this interest was paralleled by growing support back home. By the time the riders returned there with the victory spoils, cycling had become a very big sport.
"When we arrived in Astana [the country's capital ed.] it was like Ronaldhino with the Brazil football team it was crazy! A lot of people even recognised us on the plane, and then at the airport it was just great. The President told us that we did for Kazakhstan was the best publicity that could ever been achieved. He was very impressed."
Since the end of the Tour of Spain, things have been busy. "I went to the World Championships after the Vuelta, riding the time trial and the road. I was then received by the Kazakhstan Government, the President and Prime Minister, where I was very warmly welcomed. After that, I went on holidays with my wife, went back to Kazakhstan to see my relatives and since the end of December, I have been at home in Monaco.
"I haven't done a lot of training so far. But my form is exactly the same as it was at this time last year."
Kashechkin feels that things are going well thus far. "It is our first training camp together, but we know each other from the peloton. We all have a good mentality, even the young riders. There is a good network. Everyone is doing his job."
The team is hoping for a good season, and no more so than in the Tour de France. Vinokourov's win showed that he can come out best in three week events, and now the Tour beckons. Kashechkin believes his team leader has grown in confidence due to that victory. "It was important for him to win that competition," he states. "It was his first victory in a three week race. He is already 33-years-old and knew wouldn't have so many other opportunities."
"This year, I have to be in a good shape for the Tour de France as I will be riding for him there. I'll start my season at the Murcia Tour, then do the Settemana Internazionale, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour de Romandie and Dauphiné Libéré."