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2021 team preview: Astana-Premier Tech

SALLENT DE GLLEGO SPAIN OCTOBER 25 Aleksander Vlasov of Russia and Astana Pro Team Alex Aranburu Deba of Spain and Astana Pro Team Merhawi Kudus Ghebremedhin of Eritrea and Astana Pro Team Luis Leon Sanchez Gil of Spain and Astana Pro Team Fred Wright of The United Kingdom and Team Bahrain Mclaren during the 75th Tour of Spain 2020 Stage 6 a 1464km stage from Biescas to Sallent de Gllego Aramn Formigal 1790m lavuelta LaVuelta20 La Vuelta on October 25 2020 in Sallent de Gllego Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images
Astana in action at the 2020 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Kazakhstani team continues into its 16th season in 2021, assisted by Canadian company Premier Tech, who become co-sponsors and fill a gap in funding after Kazkhstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna reduced their contribution.

That's not the only major change for next season, either, as GC leader Miguel Ángel López departs for Movistar after six years with the squad. There's no big-name signing in his place, however, but instead a series of largely youth-oriented signings as the team gets a refresh.

The other big-hitters remain, though, with Jakob Fuglsang, Ion Izagirre, Alexey Lutsenko and Aleksandr Vlasov all set to lead the team in the new season.

Manager: Alexandr Vinokourov

Squad size: 31

Average age: 26.6

How did they fare in 2020?

Wins: 14 (plus 1 national championship)

WorldTour ranking: 7th

The team will have been pleased with their 2020 campaign, with Jakob Fuglsang taking his second Monument victory at Il Lombardia and three Grand Tour stage wins coming courtesy of Lutsenko, López (both at the Tour de France) and Ion Izagirre (at the Vuelta a España).

Elsewhere, Vlasov, Fuglsang, Gorka izagirre and Fabio Felline took one-day wins at the Ventoux Challenge, Giro dell'Emilia, Gran Trittico Lombardo and Memorial Pantani, while Astana riders also took stage wins in Provence, Murcia, Andalucía and Algarve early in the year.

The only thing the team missed was a strong Grand Tour podium challenge, with López taking sixth at his Tour debut, Fuglsang finishing in the same spot at the Giro, and the youngster Vlasov just missing the top 10 at the Grand Tour debut in Spain.

As with many teams, COVID-19 and the halt to racing was a big challenge, with the team reducing wages by 30 per cent and VInokourov at one point worrying out loud about the team's future.

Key riders

COMO ITALY AUGUST 15 Arrival Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark and Astana Pro Team Celebration during the 114th Il Lombardia 2020 a 231km race from Bergamo to Como ilombardia IlLombardia on August 15 2020 in Como Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Fuglsang took a big win at Il Lombardia in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Jakob Fuglsang: The Danish veteran is the biggest name on the team and undoubtedly its main leader. Already a two-time Dauphiné and Liége-Bastogne-Liége winner, the 35-year-old continued his late-career resurgence in 2020, winning Il Lombardia and the Vuelta a Andalucía, and taking sixth at the Giro.

That result will have been disappointing for the man tipped to battle for the Tour de France last year, especially against a weakened GC field. A Grand Tour podium now probably looks beyond Fuglsang, though he'll once again be a force in the hilly Classics next season

Alexey Lutsenko: As the best rider to emerge from Kazakhstan since Vinokourov, Lutsenko is another figurehead at the team having emerged as a real force in recent seasons. His 2020 campaign wasn't quite as result packed as the previous season, though he still managed to squeeze in podiums at the UAE Tour and Tour de la Provence, as well as that breakaway Tour stage win at Mont Aigoual. There will certainly be more big wins to come.

Ion Izagirre: The younger of the Izagirre brothers, Ion also has the better palmarès, with stage race wins at Itzulia, Poland and Valencia to his name along with a stage win at each Grand Tour. His most recent game in October, where he won a rainy stage to Formigal at the Vuelta. He'll once again target shorter stage races and Grand Tour opportunities in 2021.

Aleksandr Vlasov: At 24, Vlasov is the team's next big GC hope after Lopez's departure. He only joined last season after a string of impressive results at Gazprom-RusVelo and immediately stepped up.

The Russian was second at Provence, third at Occitanie and Lombardia, and won the Ventoux Challenge and Giro dell'Emilia. A Grand Tour debut at the Giro was cut short on day two after stomach problems, but he enjoyed a solid Vuelta, finishing 11th and taking second on Angliru. Certainly one to watch next year.

Vuelta Espana 2020 - 75th Edition - 8th stage Logrono - Alto de Moncalvillo 164 km - 28/10/2020 - Aleksandr Vlasov (RUS - Astana Pro Team) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2020

Vlasov is the team's next great GC hope (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Strengths and weaknesses

Despite the departure of López, twice a Grand Tour podium finisher, the team is certainly still a stage racing-focussed squad which also has a number of riders who are proven performers in the hillier Classics.

Fuglang and Vlasov will mount GC challenges across the three Grand Tours, with the Russian looking like the team's best chance for a major result, while the duo plus Lutsenko, the Izagirre brothers, Omar Fraile and Luis León Sánchez are all proven big-result getters – from Grand Tour stages to smaller races.

There's an increasing youth movement at the team, too, with Harold Tejada and new signings Samuele Battistella (the reigning U23 world champion), Matteo Sobrero and Javier Romo all ones to watch.

You could perhaps complain about the lack of a reliable WorldTour sprinter, or any kind of cobbled Classics squad, but then again very few teams can afford to fill their squad with leaders for every type of race. Astana-Premier Tech are a stage racing squad and they do that quite well indeed.

Verdict

After looking on precarious ground midway through 2020, it's good to see the team safe in the peloton for 2021 thanks in part to Premier Tech.

López's departure is a loss, but in Vlasov they have a GC leader who should flourish even more in the coming years. Elsewhere, we know what to expect from other leaders, who can be relied upon to bring a handful of big, season-defining results.