New Astana Dewi women's team launched

GCN speaks exclusively to Astana Qazaqstan and Astana Dewi managing director, Assem Kunakbayeva: 'Women’s team will have all of the resources of the men’s team'

Clock11:30, Thursday 25th January 2024
Assem Kunakbayeva (front left) stands alongside the riders and management staff of Astana Dewi

© Astana Dewi

Assem Kunakbayeva (front left) stands alongside the riders and management staff of Astana Dewi

Astana Qazaqstan have announced the launch of their brand-new women's team, which sees the men's WorldTeam collaborating with Dewi Cycling to form the new UCI Continental side, Astana Dewi.

The team is committed to developing women's cycling in Asia and marks a significant moment for the Astana organisation, with Astana Dewi set to benefit from many of the same sponsors, partners and equipment as the men's outfit.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, GCN sat down exclusively with Astana Qazaqstan and Astana Dewi managing director, Assem Kunakbayeva, to discuss the news and find out what ambitions the organisation have for their new UCI Women's Continental outfit.

"The Asian continent is huge. We have a lot of countries and a lot of big sponsors, so in five years’ time, I would see this team growing into a WorldTour women’s team," said a confident Kunakbayeva.

"That would be the first-ever WorldTour women’s team from our continent, with the support of the biggest companies in the Asian continent giving even more of a boost to the development of women’s cycling and women’s sports in general."

There is a sense that Asia is a largely untapped continent for cycling talent. Whilst the Asian Cycling Confederation currently has 42 member countries, there are only four Asian Women's Continental teams, with Astana Dewi joining Tashkent City Women (of Uzbekistan), the UAE Development Team and the Thailand Women's Cycling Team.

For Kunakbayeva, the launch of a women's cycling team with ambitions for the WorldTour will not only benefit women's cycling in Asia, but also the empowerment of women across the continent, just as the bicycle has always done.

"Back in the 19th century, cycling made the biggest impact on women’s emancipation because they got a new vehicle that allowed them to travel from point A to point B and it gave them independence through transportation," explained Kunakbayeva. "We see the huge interest in cycling in the Asian countries and our role was to develop cycling in our countries for our riders."

"We cannot compare Asian countries to the European countries who have 100+ years of experience. But the Asian continent can grow in the same direction and have the same cycling history if we talk about the long-term future.

Assem Kunakbayeva
Managing Director, Astana Qazaqstan and Astana Dewi

As with Astana Qazaqstan, the support of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Kazakhstan will prove crucial for the team, who are hoping to provide a boost to cycling in Asia alongside the Indonesian Olympic Committee. In that regard, the backing of Dewi Cycling is also important to note.

Dewi Cycling is an arm of the Indonesian top-flight football club Dewa United, who currently sit in tenth place in the BR Liga 1. Based in South Tangerang, Banten, the football club also owns the professional basketball team, Dewa United Banten, and Dewa United esports team - who have over 90,000 followers on Instagram.

Astana Dewi is the latest arm in Dewa's fledgling sporting group, with Dewa being the Indonesian word for God. Dewi is the feminine, hence Astana Dewi.

Kunakbayeva explained that the idea to start the women's team was first sparked at the World Championships in Glasgow last summer, between herself and Daniel Loy, the Vice Secretary General of the National Olympic Committee of Indonesia.

"Dan and I were quickly analysing the performance of the women's national teams of Indonesia and Kazakhstan and it was obvious that the results were not very good, mainly because we did not have the proper support in places. It was obvious that we needed the cycling team to give girls more opportunities and more racing in the calendar."

By the end of September, Astana Dewi were more or less ready for launch and soon had their registration filed with the UCI to become the latest Continental side hailing from Asia. Now it was time to select their riders and begin their working relationship with the Astana Qazaqstan WorldTeam.

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Eight-rider lineup of 'the best, most promising young riders of Kazakhstan and Indonesia'

Heading up Astana Dewi will be managing director Kunakbayeva and head coach, Vadim Kravchenko. The 54-year-old Kazakh is a former pro of Manzana Postobón and was crowned the Kazakh national time trial champion in 2001.

Announced on Monday, Kravchenko's line-up will consist of eight riders from Kazakhstan, India and Indonesia, with the President of the Indonesian Olympic Committee, Raja Sapta Oktohari, another driving force behind the project.

Six of the eight riders are 21 and under, with Kaur Jasmmek Sekhon as the lone Indian representative, Dara Latifah flying the flag for Indonesia and young Kazakh talents Bota Batyrbekova, Violetta Kazakova, Akpeiil Ossim and Alina Spirina all given an opportunity.

"This was actually our goal, to have younger riders who are maybe less experienced than other girls in Indonesia and Kazakhstan," said Kunakbayeva. "But we were looking for long-term development so we decided to sign the young and promising riders.

"These are the best, the most promising young riders of Kazakhstan and Indonesia."

26-year-old Agustina Delia Priatna will partner Latifah as the team's Indonesian duo, whilst 27-year-old Faina Potapova will be the team's oldest rider. The Kazakh has twice finished runner-up in the national championship road race and will bring her experience of having ridden for Astana's previous women's team.

Just as Astana Qazaqstan have offered invaluable opportunities to Kazakh riders such as Yevgeniy Fedorov, Alexey Lutsenko and, as of this season, Nicolas Vinokurov, Astana Dewi hope that nurturing young riders from Indonesia and Kazakhstan will see the countries' national performances improve.

"It’s hard to assess the potential of our riders because we haven’t seen them properly on the world cycling stage. But I am confident that for sure we have cycling stars.

"I would like to think that opening such a team would help to determine that talent, nurture it and develop them into the next cycling stars."

Astana Qazaqstan support crucial to success of Astana Dewi

The first challenge for Astana Dewi will be to demonstrate their talents to race organisers, who may be hesitant to offer them invitations to some of the sport's biggest races. "Whenever we get an invitation we will make sure we are there and that our riders give their best for those races," noted Kunakayeva.

Some of Asia's biggest talents may be among the squad, but as the Astana Dewi management team knows, these riders are largely unknown outside of the continent. For a while, then, the team will hope to gain a foothold through their obvious association with Astana Qazaqstan, who are proving an increasingly ambitious men's WorldTeam.

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Just as raced by the likes of Mark Cavendish and Lutsenko in the WorldTour, Astana Dewi will be kitted out with Wilier Triestina bikes in 2024, whilst partners such as helmet supplier Limar and kit manufacturer Biemme are committed to both teams for the foreseeable future.

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Set up for success with the team's recognisable name, talented roster and trusted sponsors, the final piece of the Astana Dewi puzzle will come in results out on the road.

Victories won't come overnight for the new team, especially with their flock of inexperienced riders, but many of these riders have achieved notable results at junior national championships and their experience in track cycling should stand them in good stead. So too will the support, guidance and advice on offer from Astana Qazaqstan.

"All of the coaches and the medical staff of the men’s team are 100 per cent committed to helping as much as possible the women’s team," Kunakbayeva was happy to report.

"In other words, our women’s team will have all of the resources that the men’s team have at their disposal. This is crucial, the women’s team would not happen without the men’s team."

To keep up with the latest news, results and interviews from women's racing, be sure to check out our dedicated tab on the GCN website.

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