Alexey Lutsenko wants to be Asia’s first elite men’s world champion

Alexey Lutsenko wants to be Asia’s first elite men’s world champion

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Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) wants to make history as Asia’s first elite men’s road cycling world champion.

The Kazakh rider has set his sights on what is likely to be a rolling classic-style course in Glasgow at the UCI’s first ever ‘super worlds’ in August. Lutsenko already has a rainbow jersey to his name in the under-23 men’s road race in 2012, but he wants the big one.

If he can propel himself to the top step of the podium this summer, he will be the first Asian rider to win an elite men’s world title of any kind. It would also, in theory, be Asia’s first elite men’s medal as Russia is registered with the European federation.

“For me it will be something special. It is a special jersey with special emotions,” Lutsenko told VeloNews via a team translator. “For me, winning the world championships is more special than winning anything else, because if you win, you go to all the other races with this special jersey with special graphics. Even if you lose your jersey the following year, you still have the rainbow stripes on your jersey for the rest of your career.”

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Lutsenko looked to be on course to score at least Asia’s first medal in the elite men’s road race at last year’s worlds in Wollongong, Australia until he dramatically blew with 25km to go. A slip from Remco Evenepoel dropped the Kazakh driver on a climb on the penultimate lap of the race, after making the initial attack that saw Evenepoel clear.

He would eventually finish behind a group of 32 riders who crossed the line in two minutes on the victorious Evenepoel. Lutsenko felt so tantalizingly close to a possible rainbow jersey, and wondered what might have been had he played it differently.

“I was super ready, and I was in great shape and everything, but now, when I look back, I made a mistake when I went with Remco, and I started working right away. I think if I had the time to rest, I would have been stronger in the final,” he said.

The world championships are closer than usual, which means he has to make a few different choices to make sure he’s ready for it. The men’s road race in Glasgow comes just two weeks after the Tour de France concluded in Paris on July 23.

With Miguel Ángel López suspended from the Astana-Qazaqstan team over the winter, there is more focus on Lutsenko to perform and management want him to go to the Tour. After a challenging start to last season – which saw him lose much of the spring to illness and injury – Lutsenko rode to a ninth-place finish at the 2022 Tour de France, one place shy of his career-best finish the year before.

Lutsenko believes he has the ability to improve on that, but his target this summer has yet to be decided.

“For the moment at this Tour de France, it depends on what the goal of the team is going to be, whether I go for the GC or not go for stages or use it as a preparation for the world championships. Overall, maybe if I can change something, maybe take a step forward, I think I can reach the top five or the top three.”

When asked if he preferred to have a point in the general classification or stage wins, Lutsenko had a simple answer.

“Stages,” he immediately responded in English before reverting to Russian. “Winning a stage is a result that would always go down in history, but top five is just top five, and nobody will know about it in the future.”

He already has one Tour stage win under his belt after claiming the stage 6 Mont Aigoual final during the 2020 race. The potential presence of Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France this summer could help Lutsenko gain the freedom to go for a stage win.

Fast cars and paintball

Despite being one of the top GC riders in the peloton, his limited English means he rarely speaks to the English-speaking press. He does speak some Italian as it is the team’s second language, but his interview with VeloNews is conducted in Russian by a translator, with occasional interjections from Lutsenko in English.

He’s a funny character, but he doesn’t give too much away in some of his answers.

Lutsenko started cycling while growing up in Bolshaya Malyshka in northern Kazakhstan. He started cycling at a young age but didn’t have his own bike until a coach from a regional sports school persuaded him to join when he was around 12.

“I lived in a small town and my first coach came to the town and I ended up going to a sports school,” Lutsenko said. “I was from a very small town, so I didn’t have a bike of my own, so I decided to try cycling at school. I could see that my results were getting better and better, so I decided to stick with it.

“My first race was a mountain bike race in the countryside, and I won it. However, this was on a regular bike, not a mountain bike. It was tough, but it was a short race.”

Most of Lutsenko’s time away from the bike is spent running around after his three young children, but his other passions include driving sports cars, traveling and an annual game of paintball.

“I like to play paintball, but I only do it once a year because afterwards the whole body really hurts,” he laughed.

Growing Kazakh cycling scene

With the performances of riders like Lutsenko, cycling is becoming an increasingly popular sport in Kazakhstan.

Yevgeniy Fedorov, who is close friends with Lutsenko, followed in his footsteps by winning the under-23 road race world title in Australia last year. With three Continental teams registered in the country, including the official Astana-Qazaqstan development team and the Vino Sko team managed by Astana-Qazaqstan team boss Alexandr Vinokourov, Kazakh cycling is in a very good place.

“In Kazakhstan, I really see a lot of talented young riders coming up from the next generation. There are riders who can be good in the classics and in the GC,” said Lutsenko. “For sure this generation needs to work with coaches and trainers. With my experience of 11 years in professional cycling, I now see many young talents.

“Federov is from Kazakhstan and we have many other riders as well. It’s all about work and it’s good that we have a WorldTour team that makes a big impact in the development of cycling in Kazakhstan.”

While the Astana-Qazaqstan team is still a relatively recent creation having first started racing in 2007, Lutsenko still had some hometown heroes to cheer on and look up to as an aspiring cyclist – his team manager Vinokurov and Vuelta a España stage winner Andrey Kashechkin . However, both riders have run into trouble with the anti-doping authorities, with the two being busted for blood doping in 2007.

“When I grew up, I went to the sports school, and I saw the portrait of Alexandr Vinokurov. My coach said he is the pride of Kazakhstan,” Lutsenko said. “When I saw his picture, it was kind of an inspiration because we are also from the same area in Kazakhstan, neighboring villages. The other Kazakh rider who did well at the time was Andrey Kashechkin. I cheered for them for sure and I enjoyed watching them.”

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