Astana-Qazaqstan turns to Vinokourov and Fraile homages to kick-start failing Tour de France

“You can win a stage and all of a sudden it can go from being a disaster to a great success for the team," says American rider Joe Dombrowski.

Photo: Getty Images

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CARCASSONE, France (VN) – It’s been a tough opening two weeks for Astana Qazaqstan at the Tour de France.

No results to speak of, a GC leader in Alexey Lutsenko laboring just outside the top 10, and little in the way of breakaway success to speak of.

All of that could change if the team can kick start its race and pick up a stage win in the final week.

However that’s a big if at this point.

There is still hope in the camp though and American rider Joe Dombrowksi isn’t the sort of athlete to throw in the towel. Not at a race like the Tour de France, and certainly not on his debut.

Dombrowksi was on the attack on stage 9 and made it into the day’s break before eventually slipping back. He told the media at the start of stage 15 in Rodez that he isn’t in his best form but with the Pyrénées to come there are plenty of chances still to come for both him and his teammates.

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Each day the team goes through a daily routine that includes a pre-race briefing. Ahead of stage 14 to Mende the presentation included a photo of former Astana rider Omar Fraile, who won in Mende back in 2018. On the morning of stage 15 the race briefing included a photo of team manager Alexandre Vinokourov raising his arms in victory. The Astana boss never won in Carcassonne – the finishing city for stage 15 – but when you’re down on your luck you’ll take inspiration from wherever you can find it.

“For the finish in Mende we had a picture of Fraile winning the stage, just as a reference. Today there was a picture of Vino winning on the team plan so maybe he also won here. He won a lot of races,” a relaxed Dombrowski said.

A former Astana rider has won in Carcassonne – one Magnus Cort, but the Dane left the race the morning of stage 15 with a positive test for COVID-19.

Dombrowski is still here though, and the Giro d’Italia stage winner is aware that while his form is not exceptional, there is no point in just riding around France without at least giving it his all.

“Personally it’s been ok,” he said when VeloNews asked how his Tour de France had gone so far.

“Nothing exceptional or horrible. Honestly my condition in the Giro was better than it is here. But I’m doing the best that I can. I was in the breakaway one day and just didn’t have the legs. I’ll try again in the stages that suit the Pyrénées. We’ll see.”

“It’s been a bit slim,” he said when asked about the team’s race overall.

“Luksenko has been concentrating on the GC and he’s floating around the top-ten. Obviously the last week can change a lot and he can do a good TT. So it would be nice to have him finish with a good GC. These stages in the Pyrénées, if I can get in the break, and if I have good legs, then it’s another opportunity. You just always have to keep trying, and sometimes you see guys who don’t have a great first half of a grand tour and then they finish really strong.”

Plenty teams have battled back over the years and rescued their Tours with a flourish in the final week but with a time trial and a sprint in Paris there are only a few days in which Astana can mount a genuine challenge. They’ll need all their remaining riders to be on point, and wish for some luck after what’s been a poor season all-round with just four victories so far. A stage win would change everything.

“You can win a stage and all of a sudden it can go from being a disaster to a great success for the team. It’s small things,” Dombrowksi said.

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