Dear Fans –
My apologies for the delay in posting another blog. As you can imagine, it’s been a very busy week, which started with our 2008 Vuelta victory party. It’s not every year we have a Vuelta victory party so this year we decided to host it at my house! My house is only a 20 minute drive from the finish line in Madrid, so Eva and I thought why not have it here!! All the riders (minus Benjamin since his wife is about to give birth) and staff attended, as well as our sponsors and VIP guests. It was also a pleasure to host Mr. Azat Bekturov and Mr. Nikolai Proskurin, who are part of our Kazakh title sponsor group. I’m happy to say that both had a great time being part of the Vuelta victory and celebrating with us. Mr. Bekturov speaks perfect English and gave a champagne toast to the group, thanking everyone for their hard work and representing Kazakhstan with pride! I don’t see the pictures from the party up on the Team site yet, but hopefully we’ll get them up in the next few days.
I’ll talk more about the final week of the Vuelta in my Bicycling.com blog, but I want to congratulate Alberto, Levi, Andreas, Sergio, Chechu, Assan, Dmitriy, Benjamin and Tomas for an excellent race. And then to our hard-working staff who allow the riders to put all their focus on riding and racing. Normally, I don’t like to single out riders, but I feel it’s important here … An extra special note to Alberto who has accomplished a very rare feat, especially in modern cycling. When I first signed you in 2007, it was my plan to develop you into a champion cyclist. To see you stand on the top of three Grand Tour podiums in a 14 month span is extremely rewarding. And then of course there is Chechu, one of the classiest guys I have met in my 40 plus years. I am truly honored that you have decided to continue your career one more year. You probably will never recognize this, but having you on this team brings so much more than just racing bikes.
Now … I would like to take a moment to offer up a big THANK YOU. We still have a month of racing left, but since early in the season, winning the Vuelta was OUR big goal. I won’t recap why it was the goal …. I think by now everyone knows the history behind this. But I put OUR instead of “the Team’s” because I hope that you - fans - feel that this is your victory as well. It goes beyond the 30 riders and 35 staff we have. Our fans have supported this team through the good times and bad times, and I, along with the entire team certainly recognize this. No one abandoned us when we learned that we weren’t invited to the Giro and the Tour. I look back on 2008 and see how far we have come – a challenging, but yet very special season. I think these experiences only make us stronger as both a team and fanbase.
A few days after the Vuelta, I received an email from some Kazakh fans. Here is an excerpt:
Fans of our Cycling team Astana are writing to you to express our appreciation for the fact that you were not afraid to stand at the post of the manager of the team in very difficult times. You have stabilized the team and led our riders to great new victories! These tremendous successes will give a big boost to the development and promotion of cycling in Kazakhstan! We thank you for opening the Russian version of the official Astana web-site, which enables us to receive information directly about the team for greater number of people in Kazakhstan. For those of us who have no opportunity to be spectators at European races, it is very important. This shows that you care, not only about the team, but also about the fans.
I had to smile when I received this email. There were a lot of doubters early on and to see that the team has restored faith, hope and pride to Kazakhstan is one of the biggest victories!
Switching subjects … Lance joining the team. I won’t write a lot about this now, but I do want to say a few things ... It’s normal that the press is looking for some controversy. To be honest, this team can be in a lot worse situation. In my opinion, having four riders who have all been on the Tour de France podium is not such a bad position to be in!! If anything, it brings some added excitement to this sport. I know some fans have some strong differences of opinion. And that’s fine. The only request I have is that these differences are stated in a respectful and professional manner. It’s no different than a family ... At the end of the day, let’s remember that we all support Team Astana.
Well, it’s time to spend Saturday with the family. I haven’t done that the past few weekends, so it’s my time to refocus. I’ll try to write again soon, updating you on what’s going on in the next few months!
Thanks again and enjoy the weekend … JB