Kreuziger and Vinokourov lead generation change at official presentation
It is with a largely renewed roster that the Kazakh team Astana for 2011 presented itself to the public and press in Monaco on Friday. In the presence of Kairat Kelimbetov, CEO of the sponsoring, state-owned National Wealth Fund Samruk-Kazyna and Kazakh cycling federation president, the squad revealed its 27-rider roster, of whom 10 are new signings.
Its most prominent addition, Czech stage race specialist Roman Kreuziger, will lead the outfit together with driving force and national hero Alexander Vinokourov, as motivated as ever for what might be his final season as a professional cyclist.
As the riders entered the stage - presented by none less that breakaway legend Jacky Durand - it became apparent that the new team manager Giuseppe Martinelli had taken great care in assembling a squad encompassing two generations of riders: one young, talent-laden with the likes of Krueziger, eager to prove the expectations laid upon him at the Giro d'Italia this year, and the other of more confirmed, highly experienced men such as Vinokourov.
"We have combined the old generation with the one that is coming up for a team that has big, long-term goals," commented Kelimbetov, who supplied Martinelli with an annual budget of 15 million Euro in order to do so.
With the team's prestigious mentor Vinokourov celebrating his 38th birthday this year, the choice of a replacement leader fell on Kreuziger, who wants to confirm his Grand Tour talent at the age of 24. "We are very confident in him," said Vinokourov. "He is still very young, but it's already his sixth year as a pro. He has a huge potential. Even if a three-week race is different from a one-week event, I'm certain that he will be able to do a beautiful Giro."
The Czech rider, victorious in the Tour de Suisse and Tour de Romandie in the past, now looks to improve his Grand Tour top ten placings by going for the overall victory at the Giro - as the team's sole leader. "I've come to a stage in my career where I feel I can take up responibilities. I will go to the Giro to win it," stated Kreuziger, happy about his position in the new outfit after leaving Liquigas, his employer for the past five years.
"I'm very happy in this team, I've already gotten used to everyone. I need new input to motivate myself again. To grow, this team was the best solution. I was often told that I wait too much for the others to move in races, and Vino will guide me now on how to attack at the best moment to become an actor in races."
The Kazakh star, who will thus skip the Giro to fully focus on the Tour, revealed that he was possibly looking at his last season in the pro ranks - even though he has said so in the beginning of 2010, too. "I will concentrate on the Tour, Paris-Nice, the Classics. At 37 years, I can't do both the Giro and the Tour and be compeititve. It's hard to say whether I'll continue beyond this year, because when you still have results and you're still motivated to do well... I have the pink jersey and a golden one already at home, so all I lack now is a yellow one!"
The team will thus support Kreuziger at the Giro, Vinokourov at the Tour - and possibly Kreuziger at the Vuelta again, but this is yet to be decided. As for the Classics, 'Vino' is eager to add Fleche Wallonne to his palmares, which already include Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege two times. "I would love to win a race like Milano-San Remo but it's not suited to me," he shrugged. Fortunately, Astana also has a top sprinter in its ranks who is already fully concentrated on the 'Classicissima': Allan Davis.
"We will be competitive in all races of the calendar," said Martinelli, highly satisfied with the revamped team. "We have two big leaders, but many more cards to play. The team is much more open now that it was in the past."
Amongst the newcomers are Australian Simon Clarke, French climber Remy Di Gregorio, Estonian time trilalist Tanel Kangert, Swede Frederik Kessiakoff, Croatian Robert Kiserlovski (who finished tenth in last year's Giro), fast Italian Mirco Lorenzetto, Russian veteran Evgeni Petrov and Lithuanian powerhouse Tomas Vaitkus. With 14 nationalities on board and an average rider age of 28 years, Astana's fifth season in pro cycling is likely to be another successful one.
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