Breschel and Bilbao among four new Astana signings

Astana have set about reinforcing their squad for next season, announcing four new signings on Wednesday in Matti Breschel, Pello Bilbao, Sergey Chernetskiy, and Zhandos Bizhigitov.

Breschel joins after a sole season at Cannondale, and will become the fourth Dane in the Astana ranks, joining Jakob Fuglsang, Jesper Hansen, and Michael Valgren, who he’ll support in the Ardennes Classics.

The 32-year-old, who started his career at CSC before spells at Rabobank and Tinkoff, is a two-time medalist at the UCI Road World Championships, with a stage win at the Vuelta a Espana and a Dwars Door Vlaanderen title to his name – as well as nine Tour of Denmark stage wins.

"We believe that Breschel as a rider with solid experience will be of great help to Valgren at the spring classics in the Ardennes, which he is well aware of,” said Astana’s general manager Alexandre Vinokourov. “Being the fourth Danish rider in the team, the rider is very motivated to compete for our team and help his countryman to vie for results in big races.”

Pello Bilbao makes the step up to WorldTour level after a couple of eye-catching seasons at the Spanish Caja Rural squad.

The 26-year-old Basque has won two stages of the Tour of Turkey, and finished second overall at this year's Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.

"We hope he will be a good domestique, who will assist Fabio Aru in the mountains, and also be able to catch up personally and maybe win some races, for example, in the Basque Country, in his homeland,” said Vinokourov. “He is young and active; we were observing him for a long time and decided to sign a contract with him for one year.”

Astana have also signed Sergey Chernetskiy from Katusha to bolster their arsenal in the mountains. The 26-year-old won the Tour des Fjords in 2013 and took a stage win at the Volta a Catalunya last year.

"Chernetskiy is a Russian rider, well-proven in the mountains. I think he is a good rider, who can reach good level with us, like our Kangert. I hope he will be a good helper for Fabio Aru in the mountains, and he also feels good in the team time trial," said Vinokourov.

The fourth and final new rider announced by the team on Wednesday is Zhandos Bizhigitov, who has come through the Vino 4-ever Continental feeder team ranks.

After joining the Astana WorldTour set-up for a stagiaire spell in August this year, the 25-year-old showed enough promise to secure himself a two-year deal.

"The rider is quite mature and ready to become a professional. It's a good platform for his development, and extra motivation to stay in our team, where he held a number of races as a trainee and gained a good reputation at the autumn races in Italy,” said Vinokourov.

The four riders bring the number of new recruits for 2017 at Astana to 10, with Valgren, Hansen, and Oscar Gatto all joining from Tinkoff, Moreno Moser from Cannondale-Drapac, Oleg Zemlyakov from Vino4Ever, and Riccardo Minali from Colpack.

Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali is one of the riders who will leave the team, taking Valerio Agnoli with him to the new Bahrain-Merida set-up, while Lars Boom heads for LottoNL-Jumbo and Eros Capecchi joins Etixx-QuickStep.

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