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Astana Cycling Team Snatches Victory in Italy

30 May

The cash for the grand Astana sports project may be drying up, but the cycling team is not out yet as it pedalled to victory in the Giro d’Italia for the third time on 29 May.

Team Astana’s Vincente Nibali put in a plucky performance over the last few days, helped in no small part by long-term race leader Steven Kruijswijk’s crash at the start of the descent of the Coll dell’Agnello in stage 19 of the 21-stage race.

Nibali won the Giro for Astana in 2013, adding to Alberto Contador’s victory in 2008, but with the cash for the project drying up, as falls in the oil price have hit Kazakhstan’s coffers, Nibali could be on his way to join a new start-up cycling outfit in Bahrain.

Nibali rides next in the Tour de France in July, but is insistent that he will play second fiddle to Astana team leader Fabio Aru. Nibali is also targeting the Rio Olympics.

If the two-times Giro winner does pack his bags for the Gulf, then the cash-strapped Astana team will perhaps look to signing cycling wunderkind Peter Sagan on a miserly $4.5 million per year contract.



Kazakhstan: On Your Bike

14 Nov

Almaty’s first bike share scheme has just got off the ground, but with winter just around the corner will Almaty’s answer to London’s Boris Bikes be a hit with commuters?

Almaty Bike Share Paul Bartlett

Almaty’s answer to London’s Boris Bikes – Akhmetzhan Bikes – by the city’s only cycle path

Almaty’s mayor, Akhmetzhan Yesimov, is keen to get his fellow citizens onto two wheels. The latest move in the uphill struggle to break the dependence on the jeep sees two bike stations opening in Almaty where bikes can be rented for short trips across town.

At the moment there are 30 bikes available under the scheme but the city mayor’s office hopes to eventually open up to 200 bike stations across the city. Rentals are 150 tenge ($0.85) a day (for trips up to 30 minutes at a time) or 600 tenge ($3.35) for the week.

A cycle lane opened in the city in 2010, but since then little has been done to make cycling more attractive to the masses. Almaty’s traffic-clogged streets see few cyclists braving the perilous conditions.

With fuel shortages gripping the country this year, bikes could be a way to ease the pressure on oil-rich Kazakhstan’s scarce petrol resources.

With more junk food set to arrive in the guise of McDonalds, set to open in Kazakhstan in 2015, a more determined push on getting people onto bikes may be needed to combat the looming obesity crisis when the burger joint opens its doors.



Kazakhstan: Vino Bows Out

11 Oct

Kazakhstan’s star cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov has finally hung up his trouser clips as he brought his chequered pro-cycling career to a close with a win in the jubilee criterium race on the streets of his adopted home city of Monaco.

Vinokourov – known to his fans simply as Vino, had many highs and lows in his 14-year career as a pro-cyclist. He ended on a high note by taking gold in the Men’s Cycling Road Race in this year’s London Olympics, which he added to his silver medal from Sydney in 2004.

The lows included a scandal-hit Tour de France in 2007 when he was kicked out for failing a blood-doping test. This earned him a two-year ban from the sport. In 2011 he was embroiled in a scandal that saw him accused of bribing a fellow rider to let him win a race.

It is likely that Vino will now take up a position on the management side of the Astana pro-cycling team that was set up around him in 2006 by a consortium of Kazakh companies. Another option is politics in his native Kazakhstan – he was listed as a candidate for Nur Otan in January’s parliamentary vote.

However, the smart money’s on the high-life in Monaco and the buzz of the pro-cycling circuit rather than the somewhat less attractive lure of entering Astana’s turgid political scene.  If he does opt for Kazakhstan, then the cheating and corruption allegations will stand him in good stead for a life in politics.

His retirement comes at a time when  former Astana team mate, Lance Armstrong,  finally faces the music with the sheer weight of evidence provided by the United States anti-Doping Agency pointing to long-term,  systematic doping in Armstrong’s past before he joined Astana.


Nobody From Kazakhstan Fights Back

3 Aug

Kazakhstan’s Tengri News website carried this excellent spoof of the Daliy Mail’s outburst of sour grapes over Alexander Vinokourov spoiling Mark Cavendish’s party on day one of the London Olympics.

Alga Kazakhstan!

31 Jul

Team KZ has got off to a flying start at the London Olympics, picking up two gold medals in the first two days of competition.

Veteran cyclist Alexander Vinokourov crowned his chequered career with a gold in the men’s cycling road race, and teenage weightlifter Zulfiya Chinshanlo took gold in the women’s 53 kg class.

Vinokourov sprinted to victory in the 250 km road race, disappointing the home crowd who had been hyped up to expect British success. After taking the road race gold, Vino will take part in the individual time trial, before retiring form the sport at the top. A post at the head of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation awaits Kazakhstan’s Mr Cycling after he hangs up his trouser clips.

The UK’s Daily Mail was particularly irked by Vino’s victory, calling him, somewhat uncharitably, “an unpopular former blood doping cheat from Kazakhstan” and labelling him a “nobody from Kazakhstan” in its headline.

Mail on Sunday Sport front page - "Nowhere man!"  #Olympics #tomorrowspaperstoday

It would seem to the curious world view of the Mail that cycling as a sport has only emerged in recent years, with Britain’s  success at previous Olympics and Bradley Wiggins winning this year’s Tour de France. But we should expect nothing less from the jumped-up little Englanders of the Mail.

In the weightlifting 19-year old Zulfiya Chinshanlo,  probably powered by kazy, lifted more than twice her body weight of 53 kg in the clean and jerk – where she hefted 131 kg , followed by a 95 kg lift in the snatch.

Team KZ is already well on its way to its target of three gold medals from these games, and the boxing and wrestling haven’t really got going yet so Kazaxia is hoping for more Team KZ success.

Kazakhstan: Whither Team Astana?

12 Jul

With Alexandre Vinokourov sent crashing out of the Tour de France with a fractured femur, Team Astana has been forced to look to the future. The big-spending days of a few years ago when the team attracted the likes of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong seem to be over and the new approach shifts attention to bringing on Kazkhstan’s homegrown talent.

Vinokourov’s career was brought to a sudden end on 10 July by the horrific accident on Stage 9 of the Tour which saw Astana’s team leader hurtle into a ditch at top speed. This tour was to have been his last, but he would have wanted it to end in a less painful style.

The Astana cycling team was set up around Vinokourov in 2007 and is sponsored by Kazakhstan’s Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk-Kazyna. The cycling team gives Kazakhstan an opportunity to garner itself positive PR on the world stage with its taking part in big-ticket events such as the Tour de France.

After a scandal-hit Tour in 2007, when Vinokourov was forced out of the race after failing a blood-doping test, the team restructured and bought in Contador and Armstrong along with team manager Johan Bruyneel. This brought success in 2009 with the team winning the Tour de France and Contador winning the individual event.

Financing problems, that emerged in May 2009, led to Bruyneel leaving Astana at the end of the season. He took Armstrong and a host of other top riders with him, but Contador stayed and reteined his title in 2010. Contador then jumped ship himself, leaving Vinokourov as the team’s number one.

Now attention is turning to the future and the search is on for the next Vino. On 4 July Kazakhstan’s Cycling Federation announced the formation of Astana-2 which will serve as a feeder team for the main squad. This team will be made up exclusively of young Kazakh riders.

Only time will tell if this new venture can discover a talent to fill the huge gap in Team Astana caused by Vinokourov’s departure or whether Samruk-Kazyna will have to dig deep once again to buy in the riders needed to keep the team at the top of the game.

Vino Back as a Contender in Tour de France

5 Jul

Alexander Vinokourov, known by the nickname of Vino, showed today that there was life in the old dog yet as the seasoned Astana team cyclist finished a very commendable third in Stage 4 of the Tour de France. He finished just a hair’s breadth behind former teammate Alberto Contador and the stage winner Cadel Evans.

The result leaves Kazakhstan’s top rider in 18th place overall, although it’s very early days with seventeen gruelling stages to go until the finish on 24 July. Only time will tell if his 37-year-old legs will get him on the rostrum in Paris.

Last year the Astana team, which is bankrolled by Samryk Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, was victorious with Alberto Contador taking the coveted yellow jersey. But Contador quickly turned villain in Kazakh eyes as he jumped ship to join the Saxo Bank SunGard team.

After his victory,  Contador tested positive for the banned drug clenbuterol. He is currently appealing that decision but if he were to lose that he risks being stripped of last year’s title and this year’s – should he win it.

Vinokourov himself is no stranger to controversy – in 2007 he was kicked off the tour and given a two-year ban over blood-doping offences. At the time he was leading the tour. The Kazakh veteran returned to pro racing in 2009.

Kazakhstan will be watching closely to see if their homegrown hero can keep the flag flying for Astana in this year’s tour.