It's fair to say that Astana Qazaqstan haven't enjoyed the best Tour de France campaign through the first two weeks of the race with just a single top 10 stage placing to speak of, little representation in breakaways, and none of their eight riders battling for a major classification.
Alexey Lutsenko's eighth place on the Col de Granon has been the Kazakhstani team's top result so far, with their homegrown star also battling for his second top 10 overall spot in as many years.
Speaking ahead of the start of stage 15, a sweltering 202.5km ride through the southern region of Occitanie to the rest day spot of Carcassonne, the team's American climber Joe Dombrowski said that Astana's fortunes could turn around very quickly in the final week of the race.
"It's been a bit slim," the 31-year-old admitted. "Lutsenko has been focussed on the GC and he's kind of floating there. Obviously in the last week it can change a lot. It'd be nice to have him finish with a good GC. Then these stages in the Pyrenees – if I can get in the break and have good legs, it's another opportunity.
"Sometimes you see guys that maybe they don't have the best first half of a Grand Tour and then they finish really strong. So, every day is a new opportunity. You get in a break and it's the right move and it goes to the line, and you win a stage and all the sudden it goes from a team's Grand Tour was a disaster to it was a great success.
"So, it's small things, you know?"
Astana Qazaqstan have endured a challenging season to date, registering just four wins with two of those coming at the Kazakhstani National Championships. The squad is some way clear of the WorldTour relegation morass based on three season's worth of results but languishes in 21st – last of all WorldTour teams – in the 2022 ranking.
Vincenzo Nibali's fourth place at the Giro d'Italia was a rare bright spot, with Dombrowski supporting the returning Italian in May. Elsewhere, new signings Gianni Moscon (long-COVID) and Miguel Angel López (thigh injury) have been unlucky with illness and injury.
However, despite the lack of results so far this season, Dombrowski insisted that the riders haven't been under pressure from management.
"I mean, obviously, we're here to race, but at this point, I wouldn't say that the directors or management have put on pressure," he said. "I mean, everyone has a different style, right? I personally don't feel that I respond any better to pressure than to positivity. Everyone's different, but I wouldn't say it's been the case for us so far."
At the Tour, the team is fully behind Lutsenko in his bid for a top 10 in Paris, though there are opportunities for other riders, including Dombrowski. The American was in the break on stage 9 to Châtel and will hope to be out front again in the upcoming Pyrenees, even if he admits that his form isn't at the level of the Giro.
"Personally, it's been OK," Dombrowski said. "I wouldn't say anything exceptional nor horrible. I mean if I'm honest I think my condition in the Giro was better than here. But I'm doing the best I can. I was in the breakaway one day but didn't really have the legs and I'll try again in the stages that suit in the Pyrenees. We'll see.
"I think we just have to see how I go, and in the Pyrenees if I can take a good break... Also, with the heat – I don't really like these super-hot conditions. I feel better in cooler weather in terms of my performance relative to others. But I mean I can't change the weather either, so..."
Dombrowski commented that that heat – hitting 40°C as the peloton heads south for the rest day in Carcassonne – could greatly affect the race in the coming days, especially in the battle for the general classification.
"I think it can have a big effect," he said. "I mean, when it's hot like this, some miscalculations or just not feeling good with the weather – someone can lose 15 minutes if they have a bad day and totally end their GC race."
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