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Alexey Lutsenko wants to be Asia’s first elite men’s world champion

The 30-year-old Kazakh rider wants to hunt stages at the Tour de France in preparation for the worlds in Glasgow.

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Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) wants to make history as Asia’s first elite men’s road cycling world champion.

The Kazakh rider has his eyes set on what is likely to be a rolling classics-style course in Glasgow at the UCI’s first-ever ‘super worlds’ in August. Lutsenko already has a rainbow jersey to his name in the U23 men’s road race in 2012, but he wants the big one.

If he can send himself to the top step of the podium this summer, he would be the first Asian rider to win an elite men’s world title of any kind. It would also be, in theory, Asia’s first elite men’s medal given that Russia is registered with the European federation.

“For me, it would be something special. It’s a special jersey with special emotions,” Lutsenko told VeloNews via a team translator. “For me, it’s more special to win the world championships than to win anything else because, if you win, at all the other races you go with this special jersey with special graphics. Even if you lose your jersey the next year, you still have the rainbow bands on your jersey for the rest of your career.”

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Lutsenko looked like he might be on course to at least score Asia’s first medal in the elite men’s road race at last year’s worlds in Wollongong, Australia until he dramatically blew with 25km to go. A blistering Remco Evenepoel dropped the Kazakh rider on a climb on the penultimate lap of the race, having made the initial attack that drew Evenepoel clear.

He would ultimately finish toward the back of a 32-rider group that crossed the line over two minutes down on the triumphant Evenepoel. Having felt so tantalizingly close to a possible rainbow jersey, Lutsenko was left wondering what might have been had he played it differently.

“I was super ready, and I was in good shape and everything, but now, looking back, I made a mistake when I went with Remco, and I immediately started to work. I think that if I had the time to rest, I would have been stronger in the final,” he said.

The world championships are closer than usual, which means making some different choices to make sure that he’s ready for it. The men’s road race in Glasgow comes just two weeks after the Tour de France concludes in Paris on July 23.

With Miguel Ángel López ousted from the Astana-Qazaqstan team over the winter, there is more focus on Lutsenko to perform and the management wants him to head to the Tour. After a challenging start to last season — which saw him lose much of the spring through illness and injury — Lutsenko rode to ninth place at the 2022 Tour de France, one place lower than his career-best finish the year before.

Lutsenko believes he has the capability to improve on that, but it’s yet to be decided what his target will be this summer.

“For the moment at this Tour de France, it depends on what the goal of the team will be, whether or not I go for the GC or go for stages or use it as a preparation for the world championships. In general, maybe if I could change something, maybe make a step forward, I think I could reach the top five or the top three.”

Asked whether he’d prefer to have a punt at the general classification or stage victories, Lutsenko had a simple answer.

“Stages,” he responded immediately in English before reverting back to Russian. “To win a stage, is a result that would always be in history but top five is just top five, and nobody will know about it in the future.”

He’s already got one Tour stage victory under his belt after claiming the stage 6 Mont Aigoual finale during the 2020 race. The potential presence of Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France this summer could help Lutsenko out getting the freedom to go for a stage win.

Fast cars and paintball

Despite being one of the top GC riders in the peloton, his limited English means that he rarely talks with the English-speaking press. He does speak some Italian as it is the team’s second language, but his interview with VeloNews is conducted in Russian through a translator, with the occasional interjection from Lutsenko in English.

He’s a jocular character yet he doesn’t give too much away in some of his answers.

Lutsenko got into cycling while growing up in Bolshaya Malyshka in the North of Kazakhstan. He started cycling at a young age but didn’t have his own bike until a coach from a regional sport school persuaded him to join when he was around 12.

“I was living in a small village and my first trainer came to the village and I ended up going to a sport school,” Lutsenko said. “I was from a very small village, so I didn’t have a bicycle of my own and that’s why I decided to try and do cycling at the school. I could see that my results were getting better and better, so I decided to stick with it.

“My first race was a mountain bike race out in the countryside, and I won it. It was on a normal bike, though, not a mountain bike. It was hard, but it was a short race.”

Most of Lutsenko’s time away from the bike is spent running around after his three young children, but his other passions include driving sports cars, travel, and an annual game of paintball.

“I like to play paintball, but I only do it once a year because afterward the whole body is really hurting,” he laughed.

Growing Kazakh cycling scene

With the performances of riders like Lutsenko, cycling is becoming an increasingly popular sport in Kazakhstan.

Yevgeniy Fedorov, who is close friends with Lutsenko, followed in his footsteps by winning the U23 road race world title in Australia last year. With three Continental teams registered in the country, including the official Astana-Qazaqstan development team and the Vino Sko Team run by Astana-Qazaqstan team boss Alexandr Vinokourov, Kazakh cycling is in a very good place.

“In Kazakhstan, I really see a lot of talented young riders coming up from the next generation. There are riders who could be good in the classics and in the GC,” Lutsenko said. “For sure, this generation needs to work with trainers and coaches. With my experience of 11 years in professional cycling, I now see a lot of young talents.

“Federov is from Kazakhstan and we have lots of other riders, too. It’s all about work and it’s good that we have a WorldTour team that is making a big impact in the development of cycling in Kazakhstan.”

While the Astana-Qazaqstan team is still a relatively recent creation after it first started racing in 2007, Lutsenko still had some home heroes to cheer and look up to as an aspiring bike rider — his team manager Vinokurov and Vuelta a España stage winner Andrey Kashechkin. However, both riders ran into trouble with the anti-doping authorities with the pair being done for blood doping in 2007.

“When I was growing up, I went to the sport school, and I saw the portrait of Alexandr Vinokurov. My trainer said that he was the pride of Kazakhstan,” Lutsenko said. “When I saw his picture, it was kind of an inspiration because we are also from the same area in Kazakhstan, neighboring villages. The other Kazakh rider that was going well at the time was Andrey Kashechkin. For sure, I was cheering for them and I enjoyed watching them.”

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