Competing in cycling at the highest level requires enormous strength in depth and Astana showed the quality of its roster by triumphing on two fronts this weekend – a stage win at the Tour de Suisse through Tanel Kangert and overall victory at the Tour of Slovenia thanks to Janez Brajkovic.
Brajokovic laid the foundations to his victory in his home tour with a clever attack on the penultimate stage to Škofja Loka in the company of Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF). The pair went clear on the final climb with over 35 kilometres still to race, and although the Italian took the stage win and moved into the overall lead, Brajkovic was the favourite to take the jersey off him in the final time trial in Ljubljana.
With a four-second margin to recoup in the 17 kilometre test around the streets of the Slovenian capital, Brajkovic set off down the start ramp with a clear objective. Even though Pozzovivo exceeded all expectations by clocking the tenth best time on the day, Brajkovic kept his composure and did enough to win the race overall by six seconds, to the delight of the home fans.
“We were the favourites going into the time trial but Pozzovivo did very well and caused us some trouble,” said Astana directeur sportif Gorazd Stangelj. “We planned everything down to the smallest detail. Jani was very calm and knew what he was capable of. Overall victory is just reward for the effort we put into this race and it is a good sign for the Tour de France.”
As Brajkovic was sealing victory on home roads, almost simultaneously, Estonia’s Tanel Kangert was on the way to a win of prestige and class in Switzerland.
The final stage of the Tour de Suisse saw the peloton tackle three categorized climbs on a grueling day in the Alps. It wasn’t a day for the faint of heart, but Kangert is a formidable fighter and he showed his appetite for battle by entering the day’s early breakaway.
Indeed, his courageous performance was a reflection of the determination that has marked his career to date. After two seasons as a professional in France, Kangert was left without a contract for 2010, but rather than give up, he returned to the amateur ranks to prove his worth. His persistence was rewarded when Astana brought him back to the highest level last season, and he justified their faith with a strong showing at the Giro d’Italia and, of course, with his fine victory on Sunday.
On the final climb to Sörenberg, it quickly became apparent that Kangert’s main rival would be the Frenchman Jérémy Roy (FDJ-BigMat). The pair had watched one another closely all day and when Roy attacked in the closing kilometres, Kangert responded immediately.
Roy kicked once again inside the flamme rouge, but Kangert held his nerve impeccably. He calmly chased down his rival and then coolly dispatched him in the sprint to claim the biggest win of his career. And at just 25 years of age, there are plenty more to come.