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2020 Team Preview: Astana Pro Team

Astana's 2020 team presentation
Astana's 2020 team presentation (Image credit: Getty Images)

Who?

The Astana team was created from the demise of the Liberty Seguros-Würth team in 2006 after the Spanish squad was heavily implicated in Operacion Puerto. Alexander Vinokourov convinced the Kazakh president to back him and the team was born.

Vino was caught banned for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France, but despite his troubled past, he has managed the Astana team ever since, hiring some of the best Grand Tour riders in the sport including Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.

The team has amassed countless victories over the past 14 seasons, including seven Grand Tours, 45 stage wins at them, and four Monument wins – three of which came at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Team manager: Alexander Vinokourov

Squad size: 27

Average age: 27.8

How did they fare in 2019?

Wins: 37

WorldTour team ranking: 5

A reduction in budget and the loss of Vincenzo Nibali after the 2016 season sparked a dip in Astana's results, but the team had one of their best years in 2019 after a resurgent spring and strong run of results by riders from across the team.

Alexey Lutsenko took a moving victory at the Tour of Oman, dedicating his success to his wife who had suffered a recent miscarriage, Merhawi Kudus won the Tour of Rwanda and later in the spring, Miguel Ángel López took the Volta a Catalunya, Ion Izagirre Itzulia Basque Country, before Jakob Fuglsang stormed to victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Pello Bilbao won two stages at the Giro d'Italia, with Dario Cataldo taking a third but López' Grand Tour fragility emerged again at the Corsa Rosa and he was remembered more for his slapping of a fan who caused him to crash than his seventh place overall and best young rider white jersey.

Fuglsang was still at his best at the Critérium du Dauphiné and victory there made him an automatic contender for the Tour de France. However a crash on stage 1 left him battered and bruised and he eventually quit on stage 16.

He recovered to win a stage at the Vuelta a España, where López fought to finish fifth and then ended 2019 with fourth at Il Lombardia. Lutsenko won the Coppa Sabatini and the Memorial Marco Pantani but Astana's 2019 season ended quietly in comparison to the early months.

Key Riders

Jakob Fuglsang: The 34-year-old Dane had arguably his best season in 2019 after apparently resolving some diet issues and upping his carbs. He has opted to target the Ardennes Classics and Giro d'Italia in 2020 but is also open to helping López at the Tour de France as he prepares for the Olympic road race in Tokyo.

Miguel Ángel López: He has struggled to live-up to his Superman nickname in the early years of his professional career but has gradually improved his Grand Tour results despite a lack of consistency and self-control. He has never ridden the Tour de France but will get his chance as Astana's protected team leader in 2020. The aggressive route and limit time trials will help him but the pressure and expectation could weigh on him mentally.

Alexey Lutsenko: The Kazakh proudly flies the flag for the Astana and for Kazakhstan and is Vinokourov's favoured and protected son in the team. Aggressive, strong and now race smart, he could be a real threat in the Ardennes Classics and especially the Olympic road race.

Astana's 2020 team presentation

Astana's 2020 team presentation (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Strengths

The Astana team is largely unchanged for 2020 as they celebrate their 15th season at WorldTour level. Fuglsang, López, Lutsenko remain as team leaders, with Luis León Sánchez, Gorka and Ion Izagirre, Manuel Boaro, Omar Fraile, Hugo Houle and Dmitriy Gruzdev forming a solid back bone that makes up for the weaker Kazakh group.

Astana's experienced management and staff are another key factor in their consistency and new signings Fabio Felline and Davide Martinelli will surely fresh provide power and speed in team time trials and any moments of aggressive racing at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.

Bilbao has understandably cashed-in on his success and moved on but Kudus remains as an interesting talent and is arguably the best African rider in the peloton.  Sánchez is always a threat despite his age and the Izagirre brothers can always be trusted to win in hilly stage races and score WorldTour ranking points.

Weaknesses

Astana clearly have a successful structure and strategy in place but lack a big-name and proven Grand Tour winner to be considered among the super teams of 2020.

López could be a contender for a place on the podium at the Tour de France and Fuglsang at the Giro d'Italia but their track record indicates they are only outsiders for final victory. Eight-rider Grand Tour teams often expose Astana's lack of a strong seventh or eighth man, as several of the Kazakh riders struggle to make the grade, leaving their leaders isolated and alone.

Vinokourov's taciturn character and reticence to talk openly about his doping past cast a long shadow over the Astana team. The riders and staff make little effort to make friends amongst the global fans of the sport and even in the peloton. Though riding for the national pride of Kazakhstan rather than commercial title sponsors means they don't have to.

Verdicts

Astana are one of the most successful Grand Tour teams of the last 15 years but have slipped down the pecking order of the WorldTour in recent years despite a surge of success early in 2019. They will perhaps win plenty of smaller races in 2020 but will surely struggle to compete against the likes of Team Inoes, Jumbo-Visma and
Deceuninck-QuickStep.

2020 lineup

Alex Aranburu (Spa), Zhandos Bizhigitov (Kaz), Manuele Boaro (Ita), Hernando Bohorquez (Col), Rodrigo Contreras (Col), Laurens De Vreese (Bel), Fabio Felline (Ita), Daniil Fominykh (Kaz), Omar Fraile (Spa), Jakob Fuglsang (Den), Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz), Jonas Gregaard (Den), Dmitry Gruzdev (Kaz), Hugo Houle (Can), Ion Izagirre (Spa), Gorka Izagirre (Spa), Merhawi Kudus (Eri), Miguel Ángel López (Col), Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz), Davide Martinelli (Ita), Yuriy Natarov (Kaz), Óscar Rodríguez (Spa), Luis León Sánchez (Spa), Nikita Stalnov (Kaz), Harold Tejada (Col), Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus), Artyom Zakharov (Kaz)