Steve Bauer, a Canadian cycling icon, likes what he sees in his new role as sports director of Astana.
The 61-year-old from Fenwick, Ont., who now calls St. Catharines, Ont., home, joined the joint Kazakh-Canadian team in late November.
"I'm very happy. It's a new chapter," Bauer said in an interview. "It's a very solid team, very diversified, well established over many, many years. It's evolved over time but I'm looking forward to meeting everyone and working hard to win some races."
Astana Pro Team becomes Astana-Premier Tech in 2021 with Canada's Premier Tech taking a title sponsorship role. Its 31-man riding crew includes Canadians Hugo Houle and Ben Perry.
Former Astana rider Dmitriy Muravyev, a native of Kazakhstan, is also joining the team as sports director.
Key Astana riders include Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang, Russia's Aleksandr Vlasov and the Spanish brothers Gorka and Ion Izagirre. Miguel Angel Lopez, a highly touted 26-year-old from Colombia, is leaving Astana for Movistar in 2021.
Pandemic permitting, Bauer expects to be on the road with Astana at races.
"The lead sports director at each race takes care of everyone," he explained. "He's kind of the boss on site."
It's a role he's handled before with other teams.
"The experience I have, I'm ready to do whatever Astana-Premier Tech asks me to do," he said. "Because I've kind of seen it all the last couple of years."
While Bauer believes cycling teams have learned to live in a bubble with constant COVID-19 testing, he says the 2021 schedule depends on local government regulations. Astana's normal pre-Christmas camp was done remotely this year.
Bauer is familiar with both Canadian riders on the Astana roster. The 26-year-old Perry grew up in the St. Catharines area, impressing as a junior.
"I've watched him evolve into Europe and doing some nice things," said Bauer. "I think he's challenged with the WorldTour. I think he's working hard to see if he can grow his abilities within our group and our team is giving him a shot to show that."
Houle started under Bauer as a young rider in 2011-12 with Team SpiderTech Powered by C10.
"The great thing about Hugo is he moved on and established himself on the WorldTour and continues to race exceptionally well," said Bauer. "This year's Tour de France, I was very impressed with his racing. He's very strong and very attentive and tactically he raced super well. It's going to be nice to connect with Hugo on the Tour."
Houle, a native of Sainte-Perpetue, Que., is one of several riders who will be reporting directly to Bauer.
Now 30, Houle has been racing professionally on the UCI WorldTour since 2013, first with AG2R La Mondiale (2013-17) and then Astana (2018 on).
Houle likely doesn't get the plaudits he deserves. As Bauer notes, sports loves winners and in cycling there's only one race winner "but there's 200 starters."
"Hugo's a solid team man. He will have his chance to win. He has the ability, for sure, to win something big. It's always about timing and it's about the opportunity and the right moment."
A Canadian road race champion from 1981 to 1983, Bauer won silver at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia. He also won silver in the individual road race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, collecting Canada's first medal in cycling since the 1908 Games and first ever in road cycling.
Following the Olympics, he claimed bronze at the UCI World Championships in Barcelona.
Bauer competed in 11 straight editions of the Tour de France between 1985 and 1995. He finished fourth overall in 1988 after winning a stage and spending five days in the leader’s yellow jersey. In 1990, he wore the yellow jersey for nine consecutive days.
Bauer was just the second Canadian in history to lead the Tour, after Alex Stieda in 1986.
After retiring, Bauer launched his own bike tour company before turning his attentions to helping run such pro teams as Planet Energy, SpiderTech and CCC (formerly BMC Racing). He also served worked at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Ont.
In 2005, Bauer was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press