By Shane Stokes in Potenza, Italy
Astana came into the Giro d'Italia with a less than ideal preparation; very short notice that they would take part in the race meant that the riders were not in peak form. However, Andreas Klöden is 13th, Alberto Contador is 16th and Levi Leipheimer is 21st. The team's top trio are between 28 and 40 seconds behind the maglia rosa of Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas); in other words, still within striking distance.
"Things are okay, although it's been a bit of a nightmare so far," said Astana directeur sportif Sean Yates, referring to the numerous transfers. "But that's the Giro. Although up to this point it seems to be exaggerating things even more than usual, to put it mildly.
"As far as the riders are going, Morabito had that crash and dislocated his shoulder," he said. "But he seems to be surviving and hopes to get better day-by-day.
"Gusev had a couple of crashes, but he is a tough guy and should be okay. Andreas is feeling good, Levi is okay and Alberto is getting better and better. So we will see."
Yates knows that his team needs to start hitting form in time for the event's first individual time trial. The first ITT will be held after Monday's first rest day, where the riders will compete solo over the 39.4 kilometres from Pesaro to Urbino. "The first time trial will be important," he said. "I can't see them losing much time between now and then. They have got these two little summit finishes, then the first time trial which will be decisive for everyone in the whole race. We will have an indication then of who the real leaders are."
Astana had just one week to prepare a squad for the Italian race and arrive at the event's start in Palermo. The squad had been left out of the event as Giro organiser RCS Sport stood with Tour de France organiser ASO in boycotting the team following a tumultuous 2007.
RCS Sport changed its stance against the team following a string of early season successes that has seen the squad take the ProTour teams ranking lead. Astana took the place of NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, which had originally been named to compete in the event.