Astana keen to extend Kreuziger contract?

Despite victory on stage 19 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, where he overcame five tough categorised climbs in determined fashion, the race overall was a disappointing one for Astana's Roman Kreuziger, as he finished in 15th position, almost 20 minutes down on overall winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda).

The 26-year-old Czech had been seen as the Kazakh-sponsored team's number one hope for a podium place after finishing fifth overall and winning the young rider classification last year. Tipped as a dark horse for the pink jersey this time around, Kreuziger struggled almost from the outset and came in for plenty of criticism over the last couple of weeks, including from team manager Giuseppe Martinelli.

Yet he has received a boost from others within the set-up who have since indicated their desire to extend his contract. Kreuziger's current deal runs out at the end of the season and with rumours of big name signings on Astana's agenda over the closing months of 2012, his position there looked under threat. Despite confirmation that there would be changes for next season, however, Astana insisted that Kreuziger remained in their plans.

"I can only say that we always look for options to improve the team," Allen Chayzhunusov, vice president of the Kazakh Cycling Federation, told "Kreuziger's contact with us ends this year but we would like to continue to have him in the ranks of Astana."

In the run-in to the Giro, Kreuziger was linked with a switch to Omega Pharma-QuickStep (a team backed by his fellow countryman Zdenek Bakala) or a return to Liquigas for 2013.

Meanwhile, speculation has been rife in recent months that Liquigas-Cannondale's Vincenzo Nibali is a major target for Astana and could be on the verge of agreeing a big-money deal to sign for them. Chayzhunusov did little to dispell the rumours, saying that an announcement concerning the signing of "one of the best riders in the peloton" was imminent.

It remains to be seen if Nibali and Kreuziger will be reunited next year in the sky blue of Astana. As young, up-and-coming riders, the pair both joined the ranks at Liquigas in 2006, and raced together for five seasons before Kreuziger's departure for the Kazakh oufit ahead of the 2011 campaign.

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