Astana has selected a fascinating blend of youth and experience on its team for the 2012 Tour de France, which gets underway in Liège on June 30. Janez Brajkovic takes an important step forward in his professional career as team leader but the veteran Alexandre Vinokourov remains the heartbeat of the Kazakh squad.
“Vinokurov is our team captain, our charismatic leader,” said manager Giuseppe Martinelli as he named his nine-man selection. At 38 years of age, this is set to be the final Tour de France of Vinokourov’s career and he would dearly love to sign off with another stage win this July.
When Vinokourov suffered a fractured pelvis in a fall on stage 9 of the Tour, it appeared as though his career had come to an end, but remarkably he returned to competitive action before the end of the season and has worked throughout the year to be ready for a big summer on the road.
“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.”
Brajkovic enters the Tour with high morale after he scored victory in his home race, the Tour of Slovenia, last weekend. A wonderful performer in week-long stage races over the years, Brajkovic has rarely had good fortune in the grand tours but he enjoys the confidence of an Astana team that refuses to put pressure on his shoulders.
“Brajkovic will be our man for the GC but I do not want to set any specific goals for him,” said Martinelli, who knows better than most how to manage talented riders in the grand tours. “I know that he will give everything to get a good result, both for himself and for the team.”
Brajkovic and Vinokourov are not the only stars in the Astana firmament this July, of course. Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Maxim Iglinskiy and Croatia’s Robert Kiserlovski have the freedom and class to chase stage victory, while strongmen Andriy Grivko and Dmitry Fofonov have an important role to play for the team.
The experienced Andrey Kashechkin is also selected, and he will be prominent in the mountains alongside Brajkovic. With 100 kilometres of time trialling on the route of the Tour this year, Fredrik Kessiakoff will have plenty of opportunity to impress, while Borut Bozic is hoping to make an impact 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.