Astana Continental Back On the Right Track in 2016
The Astana Continental Cycling team is a junior pro cycling team, established in 2012 to act as a feeder club for the highly decorated Astana Pro Team. The team, based in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, competes in the UCI Continental Ciruit, the third division of international pro road cycling. The team had a couple of excellent seasons in the Continental circuit as well as the UCI U23 championships its first couple of years.
Things took a turn for the worse in 2014, when a drug scandal involving 5 riders rocked the fledgling team to its core. It resulted in the summary dismissal of the team manager and the immediate suspension of the entire team as well. Everything seemed to be headed downhill for the junior team from the capital of Kazakhstan.
Rebuilt and re-badged in 2015 as the Seven Rivers Cycling Team, Astana participated in a few events with limited success. The team finally settled on a new name and UCI license in 2016, calling themselves Astana City. Despite the years of turmoil, the team did manage to retain the bulk of their roster talented youngsters.
A new name and a new season seems to have coincided with a marked change in the fortunes of the Astana Continental team. The team has made steady progress in 2016, with some creditably strong finishes in international UCI Continental events as well road races. The roster of young players seems to be reacting positively to the new found stability. A clean break from the past effected by the team management since 2014 is finally paying dividends.
The Astana Continental Team, racing under the Astana City label, got its 2016 campaign under way with an incredible performance at the Grand Prix of ISD in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. In the 43km One Day race, which took place in June, the Kazakh team absolutely dominated with 3 of its riders finishing in the top 4. Nurbolat Kulimbetov, a regular member of the team since its inception in 2012, swept to victory in Ukraine with a time of 3:25:24.
While second place went to a rider from Georgia, seasoned Astana riders Matvey Nikitin and Nikola Stalnov stamped the Astana Continental Team’s dominance in the race, finishing 3rd and 4th respectively. Another rider, Vadim Galeyev, swept home in 7th position to further sweeten the victory for the team. The whole event provided a much needed morale boost after 2 years of instability and change.
And the team seems to have managed to sustain their fine run of form. In the UCI Continental events that followed, the Astana Continental riders put in some strong performances. For instance, in the October 2016 edition of the Tour of China, Astana Continental rider Grigoriy Shtein placed a commendable 15th in the General Category and 13th in Points Overall in individual standings. The team as a whole placed a decent 10th position in a field of 20 teams. To put this performance into perspective, the Tour of China is a larger and more competitive event, featuring some of the best teams in the UCI Continental circuit.
The good form continued when the team participated in the World U23 Championships, the biggest stage of its kind for the sport at its level. The 2016 event took place in Doha in October, and witnessed several notable performances from Astana Continental riders. Grigoriy Shtein was again the top performer for the team, finishing 34th (out of 200 riders) in the One Day Road Race. In the 28.8 km time trials event, Astana Continental rider Yuriy Natarov finished in the top 50, with a commendable time well under the 40 minutes mark.
There are clear positives to be gleaned from the performance of the Astana Continental team this season. In their own backyard in Eastern Europe, the team showed that they are the true top dogs of the region. And at the bigger and more challenging events that followed, Astana’s young Kazakh riders ably demonstrated their raw potential to compete and shine on the international arena. All they need now is a measure of sustained focus and stability. If they can maintain that, the future does look very bright for Astana Continental at the moment.