The 2017 Astana team was officially presented in Kazakhstan on Sunday as part of the Asian country's 25th anniversary of independence.
After a recent training camp in Spain, the riders travelled to the Kazakhstan capital Astana together on Saturday, swapping the warm winter conditions of the Spanish coast for -20C in Astana. They will quickly return to Europe to continue preparing for the rapidly approaching season.
During the team presentation, team manager Alexander Vinokourov reaffirmed the team's goals for 2017. Fabio Aru will target the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia and face former teammate and team leader Vincenzo Nibali. Jakob Fuglsang will lead the team at the Tour de France, with new signings Oscar Gatto, Michael Valgren, Pello Bilbao, Matti Breschel and Moreno Moser strengthening the team's Classics squad.
The Astana team's 2017 roster includes a total of 28 riders from Kazakhstan, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Ukraine, Estonia, Colombia and Russia. The only rider absent was Colombia's Miguel Angel Lopez, who is recovering from a fractured leg.
Much of the team's staff remains the same with Italian directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli and Stefano Zanini again calling the race tactics from team cars along with Alexandr Schefer. Dmitriy Fofonov is officially the Team Sport manager, with Vinokourov firmly in charge. The team's sponsors include the Astana Expo 2017 and a long list of technical sponsors, including Canadian bike brand Argon 18.
Aru to debut in Oman
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, team leader Fabio Aru will begin his 2017 season at the Tour of Oman in mid-February. This is later than expected so that the Sardinian rider can lay down a more solid base of training before an intense spring of racing that culminates with the Giro d'Italia in May.
Aru was expected to debut in early February at the Vuelta Valenciana in Spain (February 1-5) but he will more likely travel to the warmth of the Middle East for the Tour of Oman (February 14-19). He could also stay in the area to ride the Abu Dhabi Tour (23-26) that will be part of the much bigger WorldTour calendar in 2017.
New sponsors, new goals
"There will be some important changes in Astana in 2017: in the roster, in the clothing, bikes and other technical things. We are sure that all these changes will lead to a new step of development, both, of the team and the entire project. Today, we are presenting the renewed team to give you an opportunity to be proud of us in the next season," Vinokourov said in a statement from the team.
"Traditionally the Astana team focuses on successful performance in the Grand Tours. This is our strength; during our history we won eight Grand Tours, so we are exciting to strive for new successes. We have a strong leader Fabio Aru and the team will be built around him. Besides, we have a number of young, but very ambitions riders, who can surprise."
Vinokourov is hoping the Kazakhstani riders can make further progress in 2017 after they won seven races and took four podiums in 2016, lead by Alexey Lutsenko. He won a stage of Paris-Nice but then was forced to miss the Rio Olympics due to a training crash.
"We are planning that Kazakhstan riders take part in the Grand Tours too. We're talking about Alexey Lutsenko, Andrey Zeits, Dmitriy Gruzdev and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, but, maybe, we will try Daniil Fominykh and Artem Zakharov too. However, besides the Grand Tours, there are a lot of prestigious races in the new UCI WorldTour calendar, which will be another goal for Astana. First of all, we are talking about week stage races, but also we would like to get some good results during the classic season."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.