Astana Continental Team

Astana Continental Team Suspension

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After nearly 3 successful years in the UCI Continental Circuit (the 2nd division), it was probably a quirk of fate that Astana Continental team faced 3 consecutive failures. Maybe there is some truth in the saying that “trouble always comes in threes.” At least, that is the way it all panned out for Astana Continental in latter half of 2014, with near-catastrophic implications for the team as well as Kazakhstan cycling in general. The Astana Continental team faced a few years on uncertainty, and was out of action for the most of 2015. After several name changes and turbulence, Astana Continental finally managed to find some stability and success in 2016 under a fresh license and new name, along with a team roster that had familiar faces as well as new ones.

Doping Clouds in 2014

The spectre of doping has been endemic to pro cycling in recent decades. In a year when the Astana Pro team led by Vincenzo Nibali tasted unprecedented success on the Tour, the cloud gathered heavily around the Astana Cycling set-up. The Astana junior feeder team, Astana Continental, was at the centre of the doping scandal as several of their young riders tested positive for banned steroids.

* The first came in August, when young Ilya Davidenok, Astana Continental rider and Kazakh national champion tested positive for anabolic steroids EPO.

* The crisis was deepened in November when Victor Okishev also tested positive for the same substance.

* Artur Fedossyev was the next Astana Continental rider to test positive, in the same month.

And with two riders on Nibali’s Tour de France winning senior team testing positive for doping in between, the Kazakh team management had to act quickly and decisively to stem the rot. Astana Pro manager and former champion cyclist Alexandre Vinokurov suspended the whole Astana Continental team and sacked their manager Dmitri Seydoun. The team’s UCI license was not renewed for the following year.

Seven Rivers Cycling Team 2015

Instead, the Kazakhstan cycling federation applied for a new UCI Continental license to start afresh with a feeder team for the Astana Pro Team. The new team was christened Seven Rivers Cycling team. For the 2015 UCI season, it fielded a smaller roster of 13 riders, when compared to the 2014 Astana Continental team, which had 19 riders on their roster when they were suspended. Unlike past seasons, there were no foreign riders on the roster, which now entirely featured young Kazakh rider. The new Seven Rivers Team featured six riders from the 2014 Astana Continental Team. They included:

* Galym Akhmetov

* Pavel Gatskiy

* Nurbolat Kulimbetov

* Nikita Panassenko

* Roman Semyonov

* Sergey Shemyakin

The team only lasted one year with their new name. The main focus of the new team management in 2015 was to distance themselves from the doping controversies, clean the house and start afresh. As a result, the Seven Rivers Team kept a relatively lower profile and participated in no major events in the UCI calendar in 2015. The Kazakh management decided to revert to a more familiar name for the 2016 UCI Season.

Astana City

Rather than apply for a fresh UCI license in 2016, the Kazakh cycling federation opted to change the name of their 2nd division team. The Seven Rivers Cycling team name was very short lived indeed. The newly expanded team was christened Astana City, after their home base in the Kazakh capital city. The change in name made sense, since the 2nd division team is a feeder team for the Astana Pro team. The squad was expanded to 16, and 8 members from the Seven Rivers Cycling team continued to ride for Astana City. They include:

* Galym Akhmetov

* Nurbolat Kulimbetov

* Anton Kuzmin

* Sergey Luchshenko

* Yuriy Natarov

* Matvey Nikitin

* Nikita Panassenko

* Grigoriy Shtein

* Nikita Stalnov

The latest iteration of the Astana Continental team in 2016 is managed by Seamus Harford and Alexander Nadobenko. Displaying a fresh break from the days of 2015, the new Astana City were a regular fixture on many major UCI continental events in 2016. Nikita Stalnov, Grigoriy Shtein and Galym Akhmetov were the most consistent players scoring over 150 points in 2016. And signalling that Astana Continental was well and truly back on track, Nurbolat Kulimbetov was promoted to the senior team as a trainee.

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