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Photo: Katusha-Alpecin

Reports: Katusha, Israel Cycling Academy could merge for 2020

Spanish media reported a merger is days away, and VeloNews' sources said the asking price for a WorldTour license remains a hurdle for the deal.

Katusha-Alpecin and Israel Cycling Academy could be headed toward a fusion for 2020.

The Spanish cycling website Ciclo21 reported Friday that negotiations between the two teams are nearing completion. VeloNews independently confirmed via sources that a final price concerning a buyout of the WorldTour license remains a hurdle for the deal.

The future of Katusha-Alpecin has been up in the air for months.

The long-running Russian-backed team, which joined the peloton in 2009 with the ambition of producing a Russian winner of the Tour de France, faced an uncertain future after longtime backer Igor Makarov was said to be scaling back his financial support. Co-sponsor Alpecin was also ending, leaving current management scrambling for a solution to save the team for 2020.

Despite efforts to merge with other teams, including a rumored possible deal with Corenden-Circus and Dutch superstar Mathieu van der Poel, sources said it appears a merger with Professional Continental team Israel Cycling Academy could come to fruition but said there is nothing signed yet.

On Friday, Ciclo 21 reported that about 10 riders under contract with Katusha would be incorporated into the newly merged operation, and that a deal is just days away from conclusion.

Sources told VeloNews that a stumbling block appears to be a question over the asking price of Katusha’s valuable WorldTour license, which would guarantee Israel Cycling Academy a spot in the Tour de France.

Earlier this year in an interview, Israel Cycling Academy owner Sylvan Adams told VeloNews he was determined to bring his team to the Tour de France by 2020.

Adams told VeloNews that he was investigating several possible mergers to try to assure his team a spot in the WorldTour for 2020.

“Our ambition is to race the Tour in 2020,” Adams said. “The possibility of a merger with a WorldTour team is exciting. It’s on our radar screen. We certainly have our eyes open, and we’ll be opportunistic. This team is growing organically, but if there is an opportunity that comes along, we will consider it. Sometimes you make your own luck.”

Next year, the WorldTour league will expand to 20 teams, two more than the current 18-squad structure. Katusha’s existing license is highly prized in that it would guarantee a spot at the highest level of professional cycling whoever controls it. Two more teams are expected to make the jump to WorldTour, with Cofidis and Arkéa-Samsic as leading candidates.

Israel Cycling Academy already boasted the largest roster in professional cycling in 2019, with 30 contracted cyclists. Established WorldTour star Dan Martin is set to join the team for 2020, another indication of the team’s growing ambitions.

Katusha-Alpecin, meanwhile, is said to have 10 riders remaining under contract for 2020, with some of its top names already securing their respective futures, with Ilnur Zakarin heading to CCC Team, or retiring, as was the case of German star sprinter Marcel Kittel’s surprise exit this spring.