Probable Leaders 2020: Jakob Fuglsang, Miguel Angel Lopez, Alexey Lutsenko
KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Jakob Fuglsang, Miguel Angel Lopez, Alexey Lutsenko, Oscar Rodriguez, Aleks Vlasov
Hotness Rating 2020: Tepid
On reflection, 2019 was a very decent year for Astana. They chalked up 37 wins, including four grand tour stages, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a rake of stage races.
The Izagirres proved to be excellent signings, with both of the brothers winning reputable events, while Kazakh powerhouse Alexey Lutsenko blitzed his way to impressive victories in Oman, Norway (Arctic Race) and Italy (Tirreno-Adriatico stage four; Memorial Marco Pantani; Coppa Sabatini). Lutsenko also – predictably – retained his national road title and won the national ITT. The rest of the top step appearances were spread fairly evenly across the team.
Then, of course, there was Jakob Fuglsang. He looked good from very early on in the year, taking the Vuelta a Andalucia in February, followed by a Tirreno stage in March and La Doyenne in April. That huge win in Liège was probably the highlight of Astana’s 2019 and deserved reward for Fuglsang’s fearsome form in the spring.
The Dane backed it up with a GC win at Criterium du Dauphiné, which led many to mark him out as a serious contender for the Tour de France. But it wasn’t to be and he crashed out of the Tour on stage 15 while ninth overall.
The second half of the year wasn’t as stellar as the first for Fuglsang, but he still managed a fourth-place at Il Lombardia, and he surely goes into 2020 as Astana’s outright leader. Fuglsang has previously said that he doesn’t feel he’s cut out for grand tours, but will nevertheless ride two next season, supporting Miguel Angel Lopez at the Tour with the Giro as the main target alongside the Ardennes Classics.
As for Lopez, it’s getting towards the time when he needs to step up and win something big. Or at least lay down a sustained challenge over three weeks at a grand tour. Fifth at the Vuelta and seventh at the Giro won’t have impressed Alex Vinokourov all that much, so the Colombian needs to improve.
He goes to his first Tour in 2020 – maybe that’s when he’ll show what he can do. Having Fuglsang in his service won’t do any harm, but there will be pressure on him from above – a podium in Paris may be required to stave off the doubters. Superman is one of KONM’s most beloved riders, so there are fingers aplenty crossed in KONM Towers.
The purported heat on Lopez (which, of course, may not exist at all) is perhaps increased by the arrival of Aleksandr Vlasov from Gazprom. The Russian, 23, is only two years younger than Lopez and showed all the hallmarks of a budding grand tour talent when taking the Baby Giro in 2018. He also stood out on several occasions in 2019 – especially when winning stage six of the Tour of Austria (fifth overall) in July.
Vino went out of his way to get Vlasov into his team for this season, so the young rider may well feature prominently, especially if Lopez fails to deliver. Granted, there’s no way Vlasov is anywhere near Lopez in the pecking order and (probably) won’t be given leadership duties ahead of the Colombian any time soon – but Astana may start to cast glances in his direction for 2021 if Superman underachieves once again.
Oscar Rodriguez is another rider on the way in for 2020, making the step up from ProConti Euskadi-Murias (now folded) to the WorldTour. Again, it looks like a good piece of business from Vino: the Spanish climber was prominent when taking fourth on stage 15 of the Vuelta from Tineo to Santuario del Acebo, and was second overall at the Vuelta a Burgos. He’s likely to be a domestique in 2020, but this is a rider with big potential who KONM would love to see given chances.
Aside from that, as pointed out by CyclingNews, there are some big losses to be reckoned with for Astana. The combativity of Giro stage-winner Pello Bilbao, who joins Bahrain-Merida, will be missed, as will the brute force of Magnus Cort, whose transfer to EF Education First is a very interesting one. Also gone are Jan Hirt, Dario Cataldo (Giro stage-winner in 2019), Davide Villella, Davide Ballerini and Andrey Zeits.
Do those departures make Astana a weaker team for 2020? We’ll find out soon enough.
Prediction: There’s probably not much hope of Astana coming out of next season with 37 victories. Vlasov and Rodriguez are exciting additions, but far from the finished articles, while Fuglsang is 35 in March and Lopez is, well, unpredictable.
KONM wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see a drastic reduction in the amount of Astana riders appearing on podiums. Lutsenko could catch fire and end up winning a shitload of races, but it’s hard to see anyone else following suit – although only a madman would rule out the Izagirres from popping up again with some mid-level wins.
Top 10s may come freely, but truly big results may not.