For better or worse – mostly worse – Astana Qazaqstan has spent several seasons carefully curating a reputation as the dour villain of the WorldTour. Recently, however, there has been a shift. Humourless social media content is (mostly) out. Glimpses of personality are (mostly) in. And at the centrepiece of it all is a single brain-pulverising reality: the riders of Astana Qazaqstan simply cannot stop with the pranks.
Some recent examples: there was that time the team pretended to put energy supplements in the fuel tank of its big truck. There was that time that “our riders get fun” on a training camp. There was that time Mark Cavendish pretended he was a train driver. And who could forget that time the awfulness of the team-bus coffee machine was accidentally revealed? Classic moments one and all, each supporting the idea that Astana Qazaqstan maybe actually cares about whether they are liked or not. And now, we have the centrepiece of Astana’s mission to capture the cycling world’s hearts and minds. Introducing: The Egg Prank.
Someone glued to the racing at the Giro d’Italia might have noticed this moment of WaCkInEsS in real time, but I suspect most people came across it via a post on social media with a single tantalising question at its core:
“Do you want to know more on yesterday’s 🥚 egg story?”
I mean, I didn’t know that was even on the menu, but I sure as hell want to know literally everything about it now, Astana Qazaqstan.
Simone Velasco takes up the story, explaining that before the start, Fortunato put an egg in his jersey. Who is Fortunato? That is never specified. There is no rider or staff member for Astana Qazaqstan by that name, so it’s probably Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometo), meaning that Astana is taking most of the credit for a prank that it has, at best, 50% of the involvement in to this point.
But I digress. All is right in the world, because Fortunato has put an egg in Simone’s jersey. So far so good: Fortunato’s put an egg in my jersey before, and he’s probably done it to you too. It’s just a thing that Fortunato, being Fortunato, does.
From whence did the egg come? It is a mystery. Is it raw, or is Fortunato saving a hard-boiled treat for on the road? These are things that we do not know, can never know, must never know. We also don’t know what colour the yolk is, because – unlike Team DSM – neither Astana nor Eolo-Kometo have an official Egg Yolk Colour Measurement Device sponsor.
Let’s not let these facts tarnish an otherwise perfect prank, though: the hilarious passage of an egg from one Italian’s pocket into another Italian’s pocket. In fact, we could leave it there and die happy.
But we will not – for we are about to learn that in yesterday’s 🥚 egg story, Fortunato has a twist up his sleeve. He wants Simone to use the egg “for the final”. If we are to believe Simone’s testimony – and I think we are – Simone agrees to these terms.
At this point, we reach the comic peak of the Astana Qazaqstan egg prank with the entrance of an unwitting third party. Belgium’s leading Pizza Hut ambassador, Remco Evenepoel, is pootling along minding his own business, before Simone Velasco rides up behind him and craftily slides an egg into his jersey pocket. In the words of Simone, “he was super surprised”. By way of reasoning, a widely smiling Simone admits that “Italians are super crazy”. On the evidence before us, we have no reason to dispute this characterisation of a nation of 59 million people.
An off-camera interjection: “Why an egg?”
Great question, Astana social media interviewer person. Why an egg? Why anything?
Simone Velasco and Fortunato have spent their lives leading up to this moment honing this one perfect prank, but even they are probably forced to concede that they don’t know exactly what it is about the egg that makes it quite so funny. Perhaps it is the element of risk. Perhaps it is the gaping uncertainty – the unknown between whether that egg is soft or whether it is hard or whether it is somewhere in between. It would probably make a mess of a jersey if it broke! Therein lies the jeopardy!
Those are probably all things that Simone could say, but instead he returns to a more simple fact.
Why an egg? “I don’t know … because I had it in my jersey,” he says, before continuing: “but it’s just for fun.”
The egg is funny because he has the egg. Why does he have the egg? Because he has the egg. It is almost Buddhist.
Remco’s reaction to the egg is captured on camera – he takes the egg out of his pocket, he looks at the egg, and he hands the egg back to Simone. He smiles good-naturedly, a man who knows when he has been spectacularly pranked by some of the best in the biz at pranks. “I hope that it’s boiled and well-done cooked,” he allegedly says to Simone as Simone puts the egg back into his own pocket, meaning that in the final act of the prank, Simone ends up pranking himself.
And what of Fortunato? That we do not know. He is a puppet master entirely out of frame, watching his egg transition from his pocket to Simone’s pocket to Remco’s pocket, back to Simone’s pocket. We’re a whoopie-cushion away from comic perfection.
Astana Qazaqstan was once seen as a bad egg, and now its riders are passing around Fortunato’s egg. It is – as I think Simone conceptualised, through all those long months planning and then executing the world’s #1 most perfect and hilarious prank – the ideal visual metaphor for the team’s hard, jagged shell cracking open and revealing the golden gooeyness within.