In Flanders, cycling is sacred. For every road, there is a bike route running right alongside it. So, what better tribute to this region's culture of cycling than the Tour of Flanders?
When he thinks back on 2020, Dmitriy Fofonov – Astana‘s team performance manager – shakes his head a little, assuming that strange facial expression that we are all familiar with when considering the year just ended.
“It was a really tough year. Almost the entire Grand Tour and classics racing season was compressed in just three months. It was a very complicated test for the UCI, organisers, teams and technical partners. I believe that this compression and the organisational and athletic frenzy that followed are the main reason why unexpected racers mounted the podiums of the major races, with a significant decrease in the average age of the winners.”
However, with respect to the reverse ageing on the podiums, Astana had its own cards to play in 2020, and its prospects appear even better for 2021.
“We’re very encouraged by Alexander Vlasov’s eleventh place finish at the Vuelta a España. At the beginning of the year, we decided to groom him for the Giro d’Italia. We might even say that that was our primary goal, but the gastrointestinal issues he suffered three days after the start of the race forced us to change our plans suddenly. We wanted him to be a leading rider of a Grand Tour in 2020, so after he missed out on the opportunity in Italy, we decided to take him to the Vuelta. Considering that he had not yet fully recovered from his illness in Italy during the first stages of Vuelta, his amazing recovery during the second part of the race with him coming so close to victory on Alto de Angliru, we believe that he will be able to compete for the podium of a Grand Tour race in the very near future. In fact, I can already say that we will be counting on him to win the pink jersey in 2021.”
Fofonov also mentions a name to support Vlasov in the young revolution of professional cycling in 2021.
“We also have very high hopes for Harold Tejada. If the 2021 season is less frantic than last year, we intend to offer him the opportunity to show what he’s made of in the stage races. Although we sacrificed him a bit to assist Miguel Angel Lopez during the Tour de France, because of the state of continuing emergency in competitions in 2020, this allowed him to start his first year as a professional in the greatest race stages of the world, finishing in 45th place. This is a very respectable achievement for a newcomer, suggesting good prospects.”
Then there are the Italian young hopefuls.
“This year, we’ll be watching Matteo Sobrero and Samuele Battistella very closely. Matteo has already demonstrated his time-trial abilities during the Giro d’Italia and integrated nicely in the team. And we plan to test Samuele in the classics in Belgium which, at least right now, we think are best suited to him, although we haven’t ruled out putting him in the Tour de France formation, a very important test for a young pro.”
On the other hand, Fofonov knows very well that Battistella will have some very important reference points in the one-day races.
“In the classics, we’ll be counting heavily on Jakob Fuglsang and Alexey Lutzenko. Their experience will be fundamental in the season and they’ll establish the preparation to focus on one or the other part of the racing calendar, depending on the characteristics of the races that are best suited to them. However, both will race with the same opportunities in the Amstel Gold Race and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, because they have both proven their ability to win on those roads that are important events for a team like Astana, given that we like to make a solid showing in both stage races and in one-day classics.”
Then, there’s the new Filante SLR.
“Today, it’s undeniable that cycling is connected very closely to the bicycle’s performance and therefore to technology. It’s clear that the bicycle’s lightness, stiffness and aerodynamics are a plus that go along with our athlete’s performance. Our winter training and testing show that the Filante SLR fully provides the performance that a team like ours demands. From this point of view, we don’t have the slightest doubt about the Wilier 0 SLR, Turbine or Filante SLR. I’d say that, technologically speaking, we’re guaranteeing the best to our riders, something that really motivates them.”