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Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Russian climber Zakarin to boost CCC GC ambitions

Team says decision driven by keen business interest in Russia, as well as Zakarin's proven track record in big races

CCC Team sees a big boost in its GC aspirations for 2020 with the arrival of Russian climber Ilnur Zakarin on a two-deal that runs through 2021.

Zakarin exits his longtime professional home at Katusha-Alpecin, where the 29-year-old joined the WorldTour in 2015.

Zakarin will help give CCC Team, racing this season in its first year under the new sponsor banner, a consistent podium challenger in stage races across the international calendar.

“Ilnur will provide us with a solid option for the general classification at stage races and grand tours and, as we saw at this year’s Giro d’Italia, Ilnur is capable of making the most of an opportunity to win a stage,” said CCC manager Jim Ochowicz. “Our 2020 roster is starting to take shape and with the addition of Ilnur, and some riders still yet to be announced, we are really strengthening the team’s capacity to perform in the mountains.”

Ochowicz cited the team’s title sponsor’s keen business interest in Russia, as well as Zakarin’s proven track record, as driving the decision to bring him on.

CCC Team, born from the combination of BMC Racing and CCC-Sprandi last year, has largely focused on the classics, via team anchor Greg Van Avermaet, and stage victories and breakaways. The team’s first-season roster did not include a major GC threat. The addition of Zakarin, who has won stages at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, as well as finishing third in the 2017 Vuelta a España, will change that.

CCC Team has already confirmed the arrival of Matteo Trentin to bolster its sprint and classics program, as well as promising German talent Georg Zimmermann. Ochowicz said more firepower will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

Zakarin, meanwhile, was effusive in his thanks for soon-to-be former teammates and staffers at the Russian-backed Katusha-Alpecin. He emerged as the best home-grown talent to come out of the decade-long Katusha project. Russian oligarch Igor Makarov has bankrolled the project with millions of dollars each season to promote Russian cycling. The team’s future right now is uncertain, but Zakarin was by far the best rider to come out of the program.

“I want to thank Viatcheslav Ekimov for giving me a chance to prove myself. The beginning was tough but very important for me as a rider. I learned a lot from Purito, Spilak, Moreno, and Paolini,” Zakarin said. “I really want to thank Igor Makarov for all that he is doing for cycling, in general, and for me. When I started thinking about another contract, he was the first person with whom I discussed my idea.”

Now nearing 30, Zakarin said he’s excited for what lies ahead.

“This new contract with CCC Team is a new chapter in my life,” he said. “It’s exciting to start a new chapter in my career and I think CCC Team will be a great fit for me as a rider.”