Even now, occidental stereotyping often leads to the description of ex-Soviet sportspeople as “robotic” or “machine-like”, a hangover from the Cold War era in which western powers typecast their counterparts in the mould of Ivan Drago: emotionless, cog-like, semi-artificial products of a frozen, scientific approach to sport.
Back then, this was a method of dehumanising an “enemy” and, countless times, such shallow portrayals have been disproven and discredited. And yet…
And yet, there’s Astana Premier Tech’s stolid Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko. He’s an intriguing character, one who on the surface lives up to these archaic depictions of athletes from countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain (and for which, hypocritically, KONM is now reaching).
At times, he seems to be riding as if controlled by a motherboard, an impassive figure churning out watts, seeing the race only via the medium of ones and zeroes. Photographs and interviews rarely show him wearing anything other than a carefully blank expression.
Clearly, there is a human being behind this calculated look. Someone with emotions and feelings common to all riders in the peloton. It’s just that, generally, Lutsenko only lets us see them when he wins, and that’s completely fine. Even admirable, perhaps.
In fact, this composed demeanour has made him one of KONM’s favourite racers. He’s aggressive on the bike and as dogged an opponent as you could hope to never face. There’s great vengeance and furious anger behind the cold exterior, as well as the physical prowess to launch assault upon assault on the field. Lutsenko is one of the stockier World Tour riders, with a core you could chop wood on, and he knows how and when to use this dense build to his advantage.
The 28-year-old doesn’t always make a big splash in the anglophone media but he has been stacking up win after win for several years now and took a Tour de France stage in 2020. He has several GC victories in lesser stage-races like Oman and the Arctic Race of Norway, but KONM likes to think Lutsenko is at his best as a one-day puncher or a grand tour stage-hunter.
Astana appear to think differently and usually aim him at minor tours. How nice would it be to see him really target the spring classics instead?
Maybe the cobbled stuff would be outside his capabilities (or, then again, maybe not), but it’s surely not a wild supposition to say that he could be a real force in the Ardennes and beyond. Although he has frequently shown up on startlines in the low countries and northern France, we’ve yet to see Lutsenko put the classics at the top of his priority list.
Hopefully, 2021 is the year we see him do just that, though it’s admittedly difficult to see his team releasing him from his normal duties.
This piece is an extract from KONM’s 2021 Astana Premier-Tech preview.
Featured image: Petar Milosevic/Wikimedia Commons, cc-by-sa 4.0, edited by KONM