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01 December 2023

Tour de France champion Nibali leads Astana Pro challenge in Dubai

His Excellency Khairat Lama (centre), Ambassador of Kazakhstan, at a press conference in Dubai on Sunday. (Supplied)

By Allaam Ousman

The new-look Astana Pro Cycling Team from Kazakhstan are determined to make their presence felt at the Dubai Tour.

The second edition of the race which begins on Wednesday February 4 will see a total of 16 teams and 127 riders compete.

Organised by Dubai Sports Council, together with RCS Sport and Events JLT, the Dubai Tour 2015 race covers a total of 663kms, divided into four stages.

The Astana Pro Cycling Team consists of Vincenzo Nibali, Diego Rosa, Luis Leon Sanchez, Michele Scarponi, Rein Taaramäe, Paolo Tiralongo, Ruslan Tleubayev, Alessandro Vanotti, Lieuwe Westra, Andrey Zeits, Valerio Agnoli, Fabio Aru, Maxat Ayazbayev, Lars Boom, Borut Bozic, Dario Cataldo, Laurens De Vreese, Alexandr Dyachenko, Daniil Fominykh and Jakob Fuglsang.

“Astana Pro Cycling Team is upbeat about racing in Dubai Tour. Dubai is a dream destination in every sector and every sport especially cycling is growing in popularity. We are confident our team will have a great time and will put in all efforts to make their country proud," said His Excellency Khairat Lama, Ambassador of Kazakhstan, at a press conference in Dubai on Sunday.

“I would also take this opportunity to thank Dubai government, Dubai Sports Council and RCS Sport for this wonderful event and helping Astana Pro Cycling Team,” he said.
General Manager of the Astana Pro Cycling Team Alexander Vinokourov while expressing confidence over his team’s performance at Dubai Tour, said: “The team has trained hard before arriving to this big event. The team is confident of delivering the best and is aware of the tough grind they will face competing against some of the best riders in the world. We have set ourselves big goals for the season 2015 and we are keen on achieving them starting from Dubai Tour.”

“We are happy to be in Dubai to be participating in one of the prestigious races, the Dubai Tour. The team is looking forward to do well in Dubai Tour and make Kazakhstan proud. Dubai Tour will be an important race for Astana Team competing against some of the best teams in the world," Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Karim Massimov stated in a press release.

Following is a profile of the Pro Astana team:

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali is the 2014 Tour de France Champion. He has four stage victories in three different mountain ranges across France.

He is only the sixth rider in the history of cycling to win three Grand Tours. The Italian national champion, is headed back to the Tour de France in 2015 with yellow in his memory and victory on his mind.

Nibali won his native Giro d’Italia in 2013 on the snowy slopes of Tre Cimi de Laveredo. He won last year’s Italian national road race in the hilly villages of the Dolomites. He won the Vuelta España in 2010, Tirreno-Adriatico in 2012 and 2013, the Giro del Trentino in 2008 and 2013 and GP Plouay in France in 2006.

Diego Rosa

Diego Rosa begins just his third season as a professional in 2015, and comes with an impressive Giro d’Italia debut at 23rd as a 22-year old neo-pro.

Rosa won the overall classification at the Giro della Friuli in 2012, and finished 5th at Tour du Sud in 2013. He won the Best Young Rider white jersey at the Tour Méditerranéen in 2013.

Luis Leon Sanchez

Twelve years as a professional, Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain joins Astana Pro Team in 2015 with so much talent and ambition for week-long stage races and the Tour de France.

Sanchez is twice winner of the Clasica San Sebastian in northern Spain. He won Paris-Nice in 2009, the Tour Down Under in 2005.

He has won four stages at the Tour de France in his career, and four stages at Paris-Nice in March in France.

Luis Leon is a talented rider with deep experience and strong results in important World Tour races. He last rode for Astana in 2006 and comes back to the blue colors of Kazakhstan for a season of high hopes.

Michele Scarponi

Michele Scarponi won the overall classifications of the Giro d’Italia, the Giro del Trentino and the Volta Catalunya in 2011. He won Tirreno-Adriatico in 2009 and Settimana Lombarda in 2010.
Scarponi has 13 years of experience in the professional peloton, and last year was a crucial teammate for Vincenzo Nibali at the Italian National Championships race Trofeo Melinda as well as the entire month of July at the Tour de France.

Scarponi has 14 professional victories and has competed in 17 Grand Tours. He will once again lead and follow Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour de France, with all eyes on the yellow jersey again in 2015.

Rein Taaramäe

Rein Taaramäe joins Astana Pro Team in 2015 to start his ninth season as a professional rider.
He is a mountain specialist with seven Grand Tours experience and five professional victories.
Taaramäe won the overall classification at the Tour de l’Ain in France in 2009, and a stage at the Vuelta España in 2-11. He won the Tour du Doubs in 2014.

Rein is Astana Pro Team’s second Estonian champion and will work this season to specialise in one-week stage races and a possible repeat at podiums he achieved in 2009 at the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland, the Volta Catalunya in Spain in 2010 and the Tour of Turkey in 2014.

Paolo Tiralongo

Paolo Tiralongo begins his 16th professional season in 2015 and his sixth year on Astana Pro Team. Tiralongo has competed in 22 Grand Tours and has won two stages at the Giro d’Italia.

He was a Top-10 overall finisher at the 2009 Vuelta España and has podium General Classification appearances at the Tour Mediteraneen in 2002, Milano-Torino and Trofeo Laigueglia, both in 2005.

Ruslan Tleubayev

Ruslan Tleubayev starts his sixth season as a professional cyclist in 2015, and his third year on Astana Pro Team.

Tleubayev is the Asian Cycling Champion in 2014-15, winning a 206km road race in May on the streets of Karaganda, Kazakhstan.

He is part of the 2016 Olympic project for the Summer Games in Rio. Ruslan won the Coppa della Pace in 2012 and two stages at the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China.

He has won stages at the Tour of Alsace in Germany and the Giro Ciclistico in Italy. Ruslan will form part of Astana Pro Team’s strongest-ever cobblestone crew, together with Lars Boom, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Alexey Lutsenko, Borut Bozic and Laurens De Vreese. He has competed in the one-day classics two consecutive seasons and has valuable experience on the roads of Belgium.

Alessandro Vanotti

Alessandro Vanotti starts his 13th season in the professional peloton in 2015 and his third year at Astana Pro Team.

Vanotti has competed in 17 Grand Tours in his career, and plays a key role in protecting and working for Vincenzo Nibali.

Over the years Vanotti has ridden with Nibali in the victorious 2013 Giro d’italia and last year’s championship Tour de France team. Alessandro is a stage winner at the Vuelta España, and has finished on the podium in stages of the Giro in 2005 and 2013.

Lieuwe Westra

Lieuwe Westra starts his 10th season as a professional in 2015 with terrific success in 2014 and a future on Astana Pro Team motivated by success.

Westra won the Queen Stage of last year’s Dauphine in a dramatic comeback in a mountaintop finish in Switzerland.

He won the Barcelona city circuit stage at the Volta Catalunya in the rain in 2014 and then went on to ride along Vincenzo Nibali and help defend the yellow jersey in 2014.

Lieuwe won the Tour of Denmark in 2012, the Tour de Picardie in 2009, and is twice the national time trial champion of the Netherlands.

Westra has stage wins at the Tour of California, at Paris-Nice and won the Classic Loire Atlantique in 2011.

In stage five at the Tour de France last year, in the rain and mud and cobblestones, Westra went into the key breakaway and then waited as the race neared its dramatic conclusion to help Nibali to a decisive finish over the nearest rivals for General Classification.

Westra will return to Nibali’s side in preparations for the 2015 Tour de France, and there will be more dramatic and heart-stopping race action for the man they call The Beast.

Andrey Zeits

Andrey Zeits starts his eight year in the professional peloton in 2015, with his entire career in the blue colors of Kazakhstan.

Zeits is a podium finisher at the Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Hainan in 2014. He has raced in nine Grand Tours, and was part of the championship team time trial squad in 2013 at the Vuelta España.

Andrey is a stage race specialist, and last season rode more kilometers in competition than any other rider on Astana Pro Team - 93 days and nearly 15,000 kilometers in one season.

Zeits will continue into 2015 with a strong Grand Tour preparation schedule, and you can expect to see him at the front of the peloton into the high mountains.

Valerio Agnoli

With 12 years in the pro peloton, Agnoli starts his third season at Astana Pro Team in 2015.
Agnoli has a career victory in the 2005 Tour of Qinghai Lake in China and in the Team Time Trial at the 2010 Giro d’Italia.

Fabio Aru

Winner of the Queen Stage at last year’s Giro d’Italia and a podium finish in the final General Classification, with two more stage victories and a Top-5 Overall later at the Vuelta a España, Aru starts his fourth professional season with great hopes for 2015.

The 24-year old Italian rider has all the makings of a Grand Tour Champion - He is a natural born climber, an excellent bike-handler and he has a time trial engine growing larger and stronger every day.

Aru will race the Giro d’Italia again this year with a team specifically built around him, and the young Sardinian has all the makings of a Grand Tour Champion for the future.

Maxat Ayazbayev

Kazakhstan talent Ayazbayev joins Astana Pro Team in 2015 as a neo-pro following a 2014 season with Astana Continental and a podium finish in General Classification at the Vuelta Mexico.

Maxat won the Overall Best Young Rider jersey twice last season, once in Mexico and again in the Dominican republic at the Vuelta Independencia.

He later came on board Astana Pro Team in August as a stagiaire, helping teammate Alexey Lutsenko to victory in the Tour of Denmark and the Tour of Almaty.

Lars Boom

Overall winner at the 2012 Eneco Tour in his native Netherlands, winner at the 2009 Tour of Belgium, Dutch National Champion in 2008, Overall winner at the 2011 Tour of Britain.

World Cyclocross Champion in 2008. Winner of the epic muddy cobblestone fifth stage at last year’s Tour de France. Lars Boom is the most dynamic rider to join Astana Pro Team in 2015.
Lars begins 2015 in his 12th season as a professional and his first year with Astana, and leads the strongest classics squad that Kazakhstan has ever seen.

He is aiming for Paris-Roubaix, he is aiming for the Tour de France, he is aiming for success in the most difficult one-day races in the world in March and April.

Borut Bozic

On the podium in 2014 at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Bozic begins his 12th professional season once again concentrated on the cobblestone classics on March and April. He was the Overall Winner of the Tour of Wallonie, and a stagewinner at the Vuelta España.

He is the 2012 Slovenian National Champion and has worked to help Fabio Aru to two stage victories at last year’s Giro despite a heavy crash in the rain in the south of Italy.

Dario Cataldo

A Vuelta España stagewinner in 2012 and the time trial Champion of Italy that same year, Dario Cataldo is a 29-year old rider from Italy who joins Astana Pro Team in 2015 to start his ninth season as a professional. He is a strong addition to the Grand Tour ambitions in 2015, and will guide young Fabio Aru through the mountains and valleys of Italy in May.

Cataldo finished on the podium in Italy’s National Time Trial Championships last year, and was 2nd in the Overall Mountains Classification at the Giro d’Italia. He won two stages at Coppi Bartali and finished 2nd in the uphill finish in Oropa for stage 14 at  the Giro d’Italia.

Laurens De Vreese

Five years as a professional, the young Belgian rider Laurens De Vreese adds to Astana Pro Team’s classics ambitions in 2015 and brings a strong resume for the cobblestones.

He was Belgium’s U-23 National Champion in 2010, and has podium finishes at the 2012 Paris-Tours and a Top-5 at Halle-Ingooigem in 2011.

De Vreese will line up with Boom, Bozic and Lutsenko at the Tour of Flanders this season as Astana sets out an ambitious program for the Classic one-day races in March and April.

Alexandr Dyachenko

2012 Overall Winner at the Tour of Turkey, 2nd on GC in the 2013 Tour of Austria. National Champion of Kazakhstan in 2013.

Dyachenko begins his seventh season as a professional in 2015 looking to his specialty in one-week stage races.

He finished in the Top-5 Overall in Malaysia at the Tour de Langkawi, helping bring sprinter Andrea Guardini to two stage victories.

Daniil Fominykh

Daniil begins his fourth professional season and his second year at Astana Pro Team in 2014 with an ambitious program preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Fominykh finished third Overall at the 2013 Tour of Qinghai Lake in China, and is the current Time Trial Champion of Kazakhstan.

The young man from Ust Kamenegorsk raced his first Grand Tour last season at the Vuelta España, riding in support of Fabio Aru and helping his teammate to two stage victories.

Jakob Fuglsang

Eight years in the professional peloton with six stage race victories in his career - Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark is coming back in 2015 for his third season with Astana Pro Team and a dedicated program for the Tour de France.

The Junior World Mountain Bike Champion is a podium-finisher in the General Classification at the Tour de Suisse and in stage 9 at the 2013 Tour de France. He has three overall victories in his native Tour of Denmark, and won the 2012 Tour of Austria. He crashed heavily last year at the Tour de France - but his fighting spirit is strong and he stayed in the race despite heavy abrasions and stiff muscles, and went on to help Vincenzo Nibali take the Yellow Jersey.