Brajkovic and Vinokourov lead Astana at Tour de France

Astana has announced its Tour de France team, with Janez Brajkovic set to lead the line-up while Alexandre Vinokourov makes the final Grande Boucle appearance of his turbulent career.

Brajkovic warmed up for the Tour by winning his home race, the Tour de Slovénie, last weekend. A strong time triallist and competent climber, the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné winner is targeting a high overall finish, although team manager Giuseppe Martinelli was keen to downplay expectations.

“Brajkovic will be our man for the GC but I do not want to set any specific goals for him,” said Martinelli. “I know that he will give everything to get a good result, both for himself and for the team.”

Although Brajkovic is likely to be the team’s highest finisher in Paris, Vinokourov remains the totem of the Kazakh team. Now 38 years of age, Vinokourov has had a complicated relationship with the Tour, his third place finish of 2003 was overshadowed by his positive test for blood doping in 2007.

“Vinokurov is our team captain, our charismatic leader,” said Martinelli.

The veteran Vinokourov had planned to hang up his wheels after last year’s Tour but had a change of heart when he sustained a fractured pelvis in a crash on stage 9. Although he has had a decidedly low-key 2012 to date, he is looking to sign off his Tour career with a stage win.

“My form has been improving every day since the Dauphiné,” said Vinokourov. “I recently did a series of training sessions in mountains and saw some good signs. After last year’s unfortunate experience, I am going to the Tour with the aim of winning a stage – hopefully in the Pyrenees – and to help Jani for the general classification, while also preparing as well as possible for the Olympics.”

The Astana squad enjoyed a surprisingly strong Ardennes classics campaign and Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Maxim Ignlinskiy is included in the team, as well as the consistent Robert Kiserlovski.

There is also a place for Andrey Kashechkin, who makes his first appearance at the Tour de France since 2007. On that occasion, he and his team withdrew from the race along with his disqualified leader Vinokourov, before Kashechkin himself returned a positive test for a homologous blood transfusion in an out-of-competition control shortly afterwards.

“Kashechkin will help Jani in the high mountain stages and could aim for a good personal result in the others,” said Martinelli.

Tour de Suisse time trial winner Fredrik Kessiakoff will look to make an impact against the watch in France, while Dmitry Fofonov and Andriy Grivko will shepherd Brajokovic through the Tour’s opening week. Borut Bozic is charged with sniffing out opportunities in the sprint.

“Bozic is our unconventional sprinter, not only for the sprint finishes but also when sprinting out of a small group after long-distance breakaways,” said Martinelli.

Astana team for Tour de France: Alexandre Vinokurov (Kaz), Jani Brajkovic (Slo), Borut Bozic (Slo), Dmitry Fofonov (Kaz), Andriy Grivko (Ukr), Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz), Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe), Robert Kiserlovski (Cro)


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