The Kazakh revenge
Team Astana Qazaqstan has been in the peloton since 2007 and in its now ten-year history has won 3 Giro d’Italia, 2 Tour de France, 2 Vuelta a España, 2 Giri di Lombardia and 3 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. One might then wonder, how much does the Giro di Sicilia count on their trophy cabinet? Well, it counts a great deal. Every success, in fact, must be contextualised, must be seen in a specific historical period and the current one, let’s face it, is not Astana’s best.
This winter, the squad managed by Alexandre Vinokourov lost Vincenzo Nibali, who is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement, and Miguel Ángel López, due to the events of Operation Ilex. In December, therefore, this team suddenly found itself without its two main leaders and decided to reinvent itself by signing Mark Cavendish and turning into a sprinters’ team, after having established itself as one of the best stage race line-ups out there.
The transition was as complicated as expected: in the first two and a half months of the season Astana Qazaqstan only achieved one victory, thanks to Simone Velasco at the Volta Valenciana, but failed to break through with the eagerly awaited British champion. Consequently, they are now at the very bottom of the world ranking. Thus, the Giro di Sicilia 2023 may well be a turning point for their season.
Indeed, the start was not very encouraging, since Cavendish missed another good sprint opportunity in Vittoria, where he got stuck in the middle of the bunch and had to watch from a distance as Niccolò Bonifazio raised his arms to the sky. So, it all came down to Alexey Lutsenko. The Kazakh rider literally carried the team on his shoulders, as he has been doing for a few seasons now. Calm and cautious both up and down Mount Etna, he never left Damiano Caruso’s wheel, he let him blow off steam and then, as they climbed towards Scorciavacca, he changed pace, breaking away from everyone and sprinting solo towards the summit and then towards Giarre.
The Giro di Sicilia 2023 belongs to Alexey Lutsenko and Astana Qazaqstan. And no, this is no trivial victory by any means. Who knows, it might well be a season-changing one!