Standing beyond the finish at the Jabal Al Akhdhar climb as the rest of the peloton slowly picked their way up the decisive ascent of the Tour of Oman, of all the Astana Qazaqstan riders fighting its challenging gradients, team manager Alexandre Vinokourov was likely keeping his keenest eye out for Alexey Lutsenko, previously a double champion.
But if his thoughts also strayed towards a certain British sprinter that would only be logical, too, given the ascent of Jabal Al Akhar also saw Mark Cavendish complete his first race with the Kazakh squad.
Cavendish’s arrival in Astana Qazaqstan was only definitively confirmed in mid-January. Being so late in the day, his debut at Oman, with only one flat stage out of five, partly constituted an extension of the team-building-and-bonding between the Briton and his team, albeit with ‘live’ ammunition rather than in a training camp.
But as Vinokourov says, the first few weeks have been more than encouraging in that area, and at the UAE Tour this week, the process of integration is set to continue. But he’s at pains, too, to emphasise that rather than seeing Cavendish as a winning machine, the way Astana relates to Cavendish on the human side and vice versa is what counts the most.
“He’s getting really well integrated in the team,” Vinokourov told Cyclingnews, “He’s happy and that’s what matters.”
“The first sprint” – on stage 1 of Oman – “didn’t go super-well, but it was the first time they did a sprint, so we have to wait and see how it goes in the future.
“It’s a pity that there was only one sprint, but little by little, we’ll get there.”
Cavendish has said in an interview with The Times recently that he appreciates Vinokourov’s willingness to “see me as a person, not as a commodity,” and Vinokourov, the team manager at Astana since he retired in 2012, argues that such an approach, prioritizing the human element in a working relationship, has always worked best with his riders.
“Maybe it’s because I was a rider myself but I’ve always felt that was the most important,” Vinokourov said. “That’s the key to it all. And with Mark, we raced in the same peloton, not exactly together as he was a sprinter and I was an all-rounder.
“But we did run into other from time to time and then there was that time in London in the Olympics where we were both after the same thing, a gold medal.”
But now their paths have converged in a definitive manager-rider relationship, and Vinokourov is hoping that at the UAE Tour, the process of…
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