Better late than never? With their late inviation to the party,
Astana are spolit for choice as they bring the Big Three of Contador, Klöden
and Leipheimer to the battlefield…Update Benjamin Noval out - Morabito in.
Better late than never? Astana will
be pleased to have secured a ride in the Giro d’Italia, but they would much
rather have received their ticket months in advance, alongside everyone
else. Nonetheless, after Angelo Zomegnan’s surprise U-turn, they have had a
week to pick a team. Despite the hurried nature and lack of preparation, the
squad seems spoilt for choice. Theirs will be the most star-studded line-up
on the start line at Palermo – Leipheimer, Contador AND Klöden in the same
team? Such a prospect will have the seasoned (and admittedtly less-cynical)
cycling fan drooling in a Homer Simpson-esque manner: between them, the
three have all finished either first, second or third in the Tour de France.
Can the three co-exist happily together? On paper, surely anything less than
a podium finish in Milan would be something of a poor result? Can Astana
ever shake off the spectre of their doping-related past? At any rate, the
Astana team here is very capable of defending the maglia rosa.
Astana for the 2008 Giro d'Italia
Assan Bazayev (Kaz)
Antonio Colom (Spa)
Alberto Contador (Spa)
Vladimir Gusev (Rus)
Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz)
Andreas Klöden (Ger)
Levi Leipheimer (Usa)
Andrei Mizourov (Kaz)
Steve Morabito (Switzerland)
Benjamin Noval (Spa) Out
Update: (see below) Benjamin Noval out due to illness, Steve Morabito
Rewind to last July, and happy times for Albi Contador.
Photo © www.benrossphotography.com
Despite the "problems" encountered with taking part in ASO-organised
races, Alberto Contador has shown why he is a Tour de France
champion, with a dominant, almost Armstrong-esque displays at the Tours of
the Basque Country and Castilla and Leon, crowned by overall wins in both. A
lot of attention will be placed on how the current Tour de France champion
performs here. Though he has raced relatively little this year – and only on
home soil – the twenty-five year old has enjoyed success with
less-than-top-form. Logically, it would be too much to expect a top-three
performance for Contador here, having only a week to prepare physically,
mentally and logistically – checking out some of the horrific mountain
passes is a must for a bona fide contender. However, considering that ASO
don’t look like doing an about-turn for the Tour any time soon, the Giro
could become a goal. This guy is the champion of the Tour de France: if he
can ride himself into some form in the first ten days, who knows what’s
possible? Contador’s quality is undeniable, his aggressive riding style
positively exciting. Even if a high overall position eludes him, Contador
will be keen to grab a stage win somewhere along the line.
Suffering not only under Astana’s wafer-thin race schedule but also under
a barrage of doping rumours is Andreas Klöden. His Tour of Romandie
victory may suggest that the veteran German will be spearheading the Astana
challenge rather than Contador, but if he is at 100% form now, surely he
can’t hold it for the next five weeks? At any rate, with his potent
combination of powerful time-trialing and dependable climbing, an in-form
Klöden is one of the most dangerous riders in the peloton. Looking at the
formbook, he is the most logical choice for Astana team leader, though it
will be fascinating to see if he can stay with the best on the toughest
climbs. At the moment, he and Contador are pencilled in to have "co-leader"
roles. As we've seen before with the likes of Simoni/Cunego, Visentini/Roche
etc, power-sharing in the Giro d'Italia is always harmonious and
Levi Leipheimer in the lead at California.
Of course, two star Grand Tour riders isn’t enough; Astana are also
bringing Levi Leipheimer to the table. Is this a bluff? Leipheimer
has also enjoyed similarly good results to his illustrious counterparts –
he’s raced the same calendar as last year, and has won the Tour of
California and finished third in Georgia. At 34, this is actually his first
Giro d’Italia. Leipheimer is likely to have difficulties on the steeper
climbs, but his ability against the clock will make him a favourite for the
time-trials. One would imagine that at least one of the Astana “Big Three”
will have to play a subdued lieutenant role; will this be assigned to
Like the rest of the team, Leipheimer wasn’t quite expecting the call-up:
“It was a big surprise to get the call from Johan. I was planning on
training in the US for a couple of weeks, but now I need to fly to Italy and
prepare myself for a tough three-week race. I haven’t had the opportunity to
take an in-depth look at the course, but I know we’ll tackle some big
climbs. I’ve also read that there are 4 time trials, which leads to me
believe there will be some great opportunities for a rider like me.”
Another big-name cyclist in attendance is Vladimir Gusev. After a
crash ruined his chances of a good performance in the Spring Classics, the
versatile Russian will be getting the kilometres into his legs at the Giro
and looking to bounce back. A useful asset for the TTT (which Astana have a
very good chance of winning), Gusev’s attacking instincts could be
restrained by domestique duty if one of his leaders is in with a shout.
Nonetheless, he is a likely top-10 time-trial finisher.
A Dauphiné Liberé stage, third in Paris-Nice, third in the Tour of the
Basque Country, fourth in this year’s Tour of Georgia: Antonio “Toni”
Colom has quietly amassed some handy results in recent seasons. Rarely
out of the top-20 this year, the Spaniard will be relishing the task of
looking after his leaders. Still, he could yet finish in the top-twenty
overall, though the thirty year-old is unproven in three-week Tours.
Fellow Spaniard Benjamin Noval marked himself out as one of the most
hard-working domestiques in the peloton over several years of riding for
Lance Armstrong and Discovery Channel. It is likely the little mountain goat
will be performing a similar role for the likes of Contador and Klöden.
Iglinskiy crosses the line first at the Tour of Romandie
Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti
Now we come to the Kazakh brigade, spearheaded by national champion
Maxim Iglinskiy. After a classy Dauphiné stage win into Valloire last
year, Iglinskiy tasted the victory champagne again last week by winning a
small bunch sprint on day one of the Tour of Romandie, where he finished
ninth. A handy climber with a fair sprint at the end, the former Domina
Vacanze man could be a darkhorse for the hillier stages. He will also be
useful back-up in the mountains as well.
Rounding out the nine-man team are Andrei Mizourov and Assan
Bazayev. Now 35, the former has been around the block a few times, but
his class is undeniable: he still finished 21st in last year’s Giro
d’Italia. Such a lofty position could be sacrificed for more domestique work
this year, but the Kazakh is still very able in the high mountains. His
experience can also only be an asset.
Countryman Bazayev also had a good Giro d’Italia last year, finishing third
as part of a twenty-odd breakaway group on stage eight, as well as fourth
into Bosa. The most clear out-and-out sprinter on board, he will be gunning
for some top-tens again for the 2008 race.
In Recent Years…
Second in last year’s TTT, Astana must be favourites this time round. 2007
saw one of their “naughty” riders Eddy Mazzoleni take a shock third place
overall, with former winner Savoldelli just behind the favourites in
twelfth. Two years ago, as Liberty Seguros-Wurth with a profoundly different
set-up and team to the one they have now, Giampaolo Caruso was twelfth
To Sum Up…
With such a star-studded lineup, one feels Astana aren’t here to just make
up the numbers (which is precisely what one felt for NGC-Industria Porte,
the poor team who were unceremoniously uninvited). They still have something
to prove to the massed critics, and will be out for both stage wins and a
strong overall performance. There could be fireworks in the final week if
Contador, Klöden or even Leipheimer are on their game, though the lack of
sufficient preparation could also put pay to designs on the maglia rosa
in Milano. Suffice to say, it would be a surprise if they didn't win a stage
considering their wealth of options and talent.
Update: Benjamin Noval Out
Steve Morabito in Giro d’Italia for Astana Cycling Team
One day before the start of the Giro d’Italia, Steve Morabito joins the team in
Palermo. The Swiss rider will replace Spanish rider Benjamin Noval. Noval, who
earlier in the week already took Dmitry Muravyev’s spot in the team, suffers
from enterocolitis, an intestinal infection. The roommate of Alberto Contador
became sick on Wednesday night, could not eat and has no reserves to start in a
demanding race as the Tour of Italy.
“We waited as long as possible to take a decision”, comments Team Director
Sean Yates. “Friday 10 AM was our deadline. We then had to register the team.
Benjamin did a test this morning. The result was negative. A team time trial is
such a demanding, hard discipline. It is not safe to let him be part of the
team. We hope Steve Morabito arrives in time. Steve has the right condition. He
proved that already in the Tour de Romandie, where he was one of the best
helpers for overall winner Andreas Klöden.”
Steve Morabito is a 25 year old Swiss
rider in his 3rd season as a pro rider. Morabito started with Phonak and moved
to Astana in 2007. He has ridden in the Vuelta and the Giro last year finishing
83rd. He won two stages in the Herald Sun tour in 2007 and finished in second on
the G.C. and has fast legs for the finish and will add some chances for sprint
wins for the Astana crew.
The Updated team line-up for the Giro d'Italia (May 10th - June 1st):
Riders: Assan Bazayev, Antonio Colom, Alberto Contador, Vladimir Gusev, Maxim
Iglinskiy, Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer, Andrej Mizurov & Steve Morabito.
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