Astana Continental Team

Astana Continental Team Post Suspension

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The entire Astana cycling project paid a heavy price for the protracted doping controversies that dragged on for months towards the end of 2014. The doping incidents, which included two riders in the senior team (for blood doping with EPO), as well as three junior riders in the 3rd division feeder club (for steroids), led to sharp criticism of the entire project from all quarters. The great successes of the Astana Pro Team under Vincenzo Nibali the Tour de France as well as the UCI Tour was put under a cloud of suspicion. And the future of UCI licenses for the teams were also under doubt for months.

For all this, Astana Continental paid a heavy but necessary price. Having 3 young riders test positive for steroid abuse meant that the entire team had to be suspended. The die had indeed been cast for Astana Continental in November 2014, when Davidenok, Okishev and Fedossyev all tested positive within the span of a month. The entire team was suspended by manager of the Astana project Vinokurov, and all activities of the team were halted by the Kazakh Cycling federation.

Seven Rivers Cycling Team

With no hope of renewing their existing UCI Continental license, there was no option but to disband the Astana Continental Team and start afresh. The Kazakh Federation chose the highly evocative name “Seven Rivers Cycling” for the new avatar of Astana Continental. The name is based on the ancient name for the region around modern Kazakhstan, “Zhetysu”, meaning “seven rivers (that flow into Lake Balkhash).

With the new name, the Kazakh Cycling Federation were successful in obtaining a fresh license for the 2015 UCI season in the 3rd division, or the UCI Continental division. The new team also managed to retain the bulk of the local riding talent which were part of the old Astana Continental team. Of the 13 riders who now formed the team, 6 were from the old team while the owners also recruited seven new rookies.

The ex-Astana members were:

* Galym Akhmetov

* Pavel Gatskiy

* Nurbolat Kulimbeto

* Nikita Panassenko

* Roman Semyonov

* Sergey Shemyakin

And the new recruits included:

* Anton Kuzmin

* Sergey Luchshenko

* Yuriy Natarov

* Matvey Nikitin

* Grigoriy Shtein

* Nikita Stalnov

* Artyom Zakharov

The Seven Rivers Team had a generally low impact season in 2015, participating in a few events in the UCI calendar. They Include:

* East Bohemia Tour

* The Tour of Singarak

* Tour of Bulgaria

* Baltyk Karkonosze Tour

The team had only two notable victories in their only year of existence. These were stage victories in the Tour of Bulgaria (stage 4) for Panassenko, and in the Baltyk Karkonosze Tour (also Stage 4) for another old boy Kulimbetov.

Astana City

After the end of the 2015 season, the Kazakh Cycling Federation sought to remake the team once again. Since the team was still a 3rd division feeder club for the now resurgent Astana Pro Team under Nibali and Fabio Aru, they decided to change the name to reflect its close relations with the Astana project more directly. Thus the name “Astana City” was given to the team, reflecting its identity. The team roster was expanded with the arrival of 8 new riders. And with 8 of the riders from the 2015 Seven Rivers team still making the cut, the number of riders had risen to 16. The notable members in the new roster included:

* Galym Akhmetov

* Nurbolat Kulimbetov

* Sergey Luchshenko

* Matvey Nikitin

* Nikita Panassenko

* Grigoriy Shtein

* Nikita Stalnov

* Vadim Galeyev

The new team is still finding its way back to the winning days of Astana Continental, but the signs are promising. The team had a dominating display in the Ukrainian one day race called the Grand Prix of ISD. In the event that took place in Vinnytsia, Nurbolat Kulimbetov rode to victory while 3 other Astana riders finished in the top 10, 2 of them in the top 5. Though the team took part in other UCI events in 2016, like the Tour d’Avenir and the Tour of China I and II, the results were mid-table at best.

Riders in the Senior Team

But the real success of Astana Continental/Astana City lies not in the team’s performance, but in the composition of the senior Astana Pro Team. Nurbolat Kulimbetov, Maxat Ayazbaev, Daniil Fominykh, Arman Kamyshev, Ruslan Tleubayev, and Artyom Zakharov are all young Kazakh riders who have risen through the feeder club ranks to join the elite Astana Pro team as trainees. There lies the true success of the Astana Continental/Astana City project.

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