Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

Kazakhstan | Team Website

Astana is a team that would have gladdened the hearts of the people behind the UCI’s original globalisation project: a Kazakh squad, led by an Italian and a Dane.

Since appearing on the scene in 2007, the squad has become a mainstay of the top-flight, with a host of wins in the world's biggest races.

Most natably, Italian Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France after finishing third overall in the 2012 edition and claiming the Giro d'Italia victory in 2013.

The team successfully nurtured a new Grand Tour talent in the shape of Fabio Aru, who won the 2015 Vuelta a España after placing second in the Giro behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) earlier in the year.

With Nibali moving to Bahrain-Merida in 2017 and Aru to UAE Team Emirates in 2018, the squad is now without a big Grand Tour leader.

However, they have a couple of other riders quickly gaining momentum in bigger stage races: not least Jakob Fuglsang and Colombian prospect Miguel Ángel López.

Astana has also found success in one-day races and individual stages, with Michael Valgren, Omar Fraile, Alexey Lutsenko, Magnus Cort Nielsen and old hand Luis Leon Sanchez all claiming victories in recent seasons. Valgren's wins in the 2018 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race shows that the team can be a force in the Classics.

Astana's success, however, has been tempered by controversy over the years, including several doping cases within the team, including Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy both failing tests for banned blood booster EPO in late 2014.

The UCI conducted a review into the team and its management, and while the team's WorldTour status looked in jeopardy, it was awarded a licence for 2015.