Astana-Premier Tech may have been the strongest team at the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain on Saturday but they still head out of the race without a victory this season after the outnumbered Alejandro Valverde claimed it for Movistar instead, leaving the Kazakhstani team with the second and third steps of the podium.
It was a group of three at the front in the final stages of the 1.Pro race with Astana-Premier Tech’s Alexey Lutsenko attacking to join Valverde and teammate Luis León Sánchez, who was the final rider remaining from the late break up the front. However, when Valverde attacked on the steep Ibarra 'wall' climb with two kilometres to go, there was little either could do.
“We followed our plan, and we did not do any mistakes on the road,” said directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli. “We attacked in the right moment and Luis Leon Sanchez went away in the right breakaway which had all chances to go to the finish. Well, in the end there are a few teams who cooperated pretty well in front of the peloton, chasing the break hard inside the last 20 kilometres. I think we were the best team today, but one rider was just stronger in the final.”
Lutsenko came second behind Valverde, while Sánchez took third, moving one step down from his second place on the podium when the race last ran in 2019, instead of the step up he was looking for. Omar Fraile made it three in the top ten, with ninth, and Astana-Premier Tech won the best team classification.
It is the second time this year that the team has secured two steps on the podium, with Aleksandr Vlasov and Ion Izagirre coming in behind winner Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) on a chaotic final stage of Paris-Nice. Still, given the team is looking for its first victory this season and in the last edition of the race Sánchez also had to settle for second, a single podium step – as long as it was the right one – would have been a far more welcome outcome.
“Once again, I was close to a victory, but missed it,” said Sánchez. “Of course, I am a bit disappointed because I did my best today, but it was not enough. The team was perfect, and the guys did an amazing job for me, providing the best moment to attack. Everything went well in our late breakaway and I made my attack on the last big climb, but later Valverde was able to join me. Together with Alexey we tried to play our cards, but it did not work out.”
Lutsenko was returning to racing after his crash on the final day of Paris-Nice, where after initially riding on he abandoned later in the stage,
“I recovered pretty well after my crash at Paris-Nice and since then I’ve done a big amount of work to come back in form for this part of the season,” said the 28-year-old rider from Khazakstan. “I suffered a bit in the first half of the race, while later I felt much better, so I was up there in front for the decisive part.”
Lutsenko caught Valverde and Sánchez at a little over three kilometres to go and then continued on to try and pull out an advantage.
“Together with Luis Leon we did our best, I tried to attack on the descent, but it did not work. Well, it was a good chance to win this race and we did all we could for that, but this time Valverde was just stronger,” said Lutsenko. “However, I am happy with my performance and now I am looking forward to the next week at Itzulia Basque Country. The main goal is still the same – to build up my form for the Ardennes, but if I see a chance to fight for a stage win I will try to use it.”
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