A perfect start of the season for Kazakh rapper, Alexey Lutsenko. In his first race of the year, the Astana Qazaqstan Team rider was untouchable in the 1st edition of Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior, a race that included multiple hard gravel climbs and was billed as the ‘Spanish Strade Bianche,’ but with even longer climbs
The race contained 40 kilometres of gravel and after 120 kilometers of racing riders in Clásica Jaén needed to climb Ubeda (6.6 km at 5.2%), where the race finished, three times. The last part of Ubeda was the hardest with 2.1 kilometers at 7.6%. It also featured the Santa Eulalia climb of 5.5 km which even at 4.8% was challenging given the road surface, cresting 52 kilometres from the finish.
The race exploded on the Santa Eulalia climb with 47 km to go, with the hard tempo splitting the field into multiple groups of 10-15 riders. The first big attack that was shown on TV was made by Lennard Kämna, who is back racing after some time off due to illness in 2021. Alexey Lutsenko reacted quickly and was on the German’s wheel. Meanwhile, in the peloton, their teammates slowed the group down for a while by pacing slowly at the front.
Lutsenko, perhaps sensing some fatigue in the other riders already, pressed on with over 45km to go, dropping Kämna and riding solo. One of the race favourites, Tim Wellens attacked and tried to catch Lutsenko on a gravel climb, but the Belgian failed to fully close the gap. At one point (see the picture below) Wellens was really close to catching Lutsenko, but could not finish the job due to the hard pace of Lutsenko on these sterrato sections.
Later Lennard Kämna and Connor Swift, working well together, caught Lutsenko, who won the Criterium du Dauphine time-trial in 2021 and the new Italian gravel race, Serenissima Gravel, last October. Tim Wellens with 27 km to go, joined the leading trio. A brief moment later, Lutsenko again showed his great form and just rode away from the competitors on the next gravel section.
The Kazakh quickly gained a 30-second lead over the closest chasers who quickly seemed to accept that there was no beating Lutsenko today. Before crossing the finish line and starting the last lap, Lutsenko’s bike front wheel came loose on the cobble section and he fixed the problem while riding – calmly and as if he was on a training ride.
Nothing could stop Lutsenko from winning the inaugural edition of Clásica Jaén, including on the last climb where he was stuck for a second in a sandy gravel section.
Lutsenko featured heavily in the viral Astana rap song, which included lyrics: “We are rolling pedals. For the gold medals. Our job is to win. Astana is my team,” and today he did that, despite a large replica olive being the prize rather than a gold medal.
Given Lutsenko’s aptitude for gravel racing and already a 7th place in Strade Bianche in 2019, he should be considered one of the favourites this year in Strade if he can bring the form he showed today in Clasica Jaen.
Tim Wellens finished 2nd and earned 85 UCI points, while his teammates Steff Cras and Andreas Kron were 8th and 9th. Lotto-Soudal needs badly UCI points to avoid relegation. Unfortunately, their rivals Arkea-Samsic also had a good race with Connor Swift finishing 5th, Warren Barguil 7th and Simon Guglielmi 11th.