Lutsenko victory in Sicily puts shine on Astana’s dire spring as team waits on Cavendish to deliver

Lutsenko saves team's blushes after bleak start to season – can Cavendish help shift the tone at Giro d'Italia?

Photo: La Presse

Alexey Lutsenko scored a crucial mojo-boosting double for Astana-Qazaqstan with his dominant stage victory and GC win at Giro di Sicilia.

Until Friday, Astana had been adrift at the bottom of the WorldTour pecking-order with only Simone Valasco’s February win on its score sheet.

Lutsenko’s rampant triumph Friday on the Sicilian “Queen Stage” tripled the team’s win-tally and saved the worst of its blushes as it heads toward grand tour season.

It was Lutsenko’s first win in 424 days in a timely coup for both the Kazakh and his struggling Astana crew.

“I wasn’t relaxed at the end, I was tired but I managed to enjoy this victory. I’m very happy with it,” Lutsenko said after scoring a blistering solo win in Giarre.

“The last victory was a long time ago. We have had a lot of problems for the team. To win the Giro di Sicilia brings us happiness again. It’s important for the morale.”

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Even after Lutsenko’s double-up in Sicilia, Astana-Qazaqstan remains stuck at the bottom of the WorldTour league alongside floundering French trio Ag2r-Citröen, Arkéa Samsic, and Groupama-FDJ.

With the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France now on the near horizon, Alexander Vinokourov’s crew desperately needs team captains Lutsenko and Mark Cavendish to lead a summer reboot.

“Alexey was incredible today, he was unstoppable, and we all were happy to see him in such good form in this ‘Queen Stage.’ It was just ‘his day’ and he did everything perfectly,” team director Giuseppe Martinelli said Friday.

“A very beautiful and at the same time very important success for our team.”

The Cav-factor

Cavendish is still searching for his first victory in 2023. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Astana-Qazaqstan rumbled into 2023 off the back of a very steep U-Turn.

Team talisman Vincenzo Nibali retired, GC leader Miguel Ángel López was booted, and Cavendish arrived on a late deal that saved the Manx from potential retirement.

Vinokourov piled his hopes into sprint success with Cavendish and put his transfer budget toward building a leadout train.

Team staff remains confident the veteran speedster can still come good after emerging from the spring way off the pace of a younger, faster, more versatile swarm of sprinters.

“From my point of view, we are very satisfied, considering that he arrived at the end of December, and to organize a sprint train so fast is not so easy,” team director Stefano Zanini told VeloNews earlier this month.

“During racing it’s not easy to find that feeling. We have the riders to be there for him in the sprint, but a train is something you have to work on a lot.”

After a fruitless ride through Sicily, Cavendish next heads to Tour de Romandie before he hopes to pad his huge palmarès at the Giro d’Italia in May. Meanwhile, Lutsenko races through the Ardennes ahead of hunting stages at the Tour de France.

An outsider victory in the hilly classics from Lutsenko or a 54th grand tour win from Cavendsh in Italy could totally shift the tone on Astana-Qazaqstan’s disaster start to the season.

And an all-time record 35th Tour de France victory from Cavendish in July?

It would be champagne all the way into the offseason.

Lutsenko tastes some long-awaited bubbly after 14 months out of the winner’s circle. (Photo: La Presse)

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