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Israel Cycling Academy, Katusha merger opens way to WorldTour

Details are still emerging and the UCI still needs to approve it, but Israel Cycling Academy confirmed that its merger with the Russian team Katusha-Alpecin is nearing completion.

Canadian tycoon Sylvan Adams’ dream of ushering an Israeli team into the WorldTour is happening sooner than expected.

With the Katusha-Alpecin WorldTour license now available, Adams is poised to bring the Israel Cycling Academy, formed in 2014, to the 2020 Tour de France and beyond.

“I have stated for some time that ICA would be in the World Tour, sooner or later,” Adams said Wednesday in a press release posted on the team’s Facebook page. “I am excited that it is happening right away for next year’s season.”

The deal still needs approval from the UCI, but the team’s message Wednesday suggests that months of negotiations between the Russians and the Israelis has cleared the way for a merger.

Israel Cycling Academy’s imminent ascension into the WorldTour, however, means the end of the Katusha-Alpecin team. The Russian outfit, created in 2009 to promote Russian cycling and try to forge a Russian Tour winner, will close at the end of the season as a stand-alone team.

As part of the merger deal between Adams and Russian team owner Igor Makarov, riders still under contract with Katusha-Alpecin and some key staff members will be part of the 2020 merged team. There were 11 riders under contract for 2020, yet some have agreed to move on, but several of the Katusha-Alpecin riders will be part of the merger.

It’s unclear if Katusha will retain part of the naming rights next season, or if the team will race under the Israel Cycling Academy banner. Full details of the merger have still not been publicly revealed.

Sources close to the Russian team confirmed to VeloNews that Katusha Sports, a stand-alone clothing and lifestyle company, will still be involved with the rebranded team. Katusha Sports also confirmed it will be a new sponsor of an existing women’s cycling team for 2020, with more details soon to be revealed.

At the center of the deal is Katusha-Alpecin’s active WorldTour license. Rather than try to vie for a new license, Adams and Israel Cycling Academy told VeloNews in January that a merger with an existing WorldTour team would be a viable option to jump from the Professional Continental to the WorldTour level.

The Katusha license is under consideration for a three-year extension as part of ongoing expansion of the WorldTour, which will grow once again to 20 teams in 2020. The UCI will consider the ICA-Katusha merger as it reviews all racing licenses applications in the coming weeks.

For Adams and co-owner Ron Baron, the rapid rise of the Israel Cycling Academy from a small Continental team in 2014 to the cusp of becoming the first Israel-backed team to race the Tour de France is dizzying. After racing the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia, the team says it’s up to the challenge to enter the WorldTour.

“The team has been growing each year in an organic way, both organizationally and also on the rider side, and we feel ready for this new challenge,” said team manager Kjell Carlstrom. “We have great chemistry on this team, and I am proud of what we accomplished together. Really excited for next year.”

Several Katusha-Alepcin riders had already confirmed their departure for 2020, including Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) and Nathan Haas (Cofidis), while Marcel Kittel retired mid-season citing fatigue. Other riders, such as Paris-Roubaix runner-up Nils Politt, are among 11 riders with existing contracts.

Israel Cycling Academy, which raced with 30 riders this season, will see many of its existing lineup head for the exit to make room for the in-bound Katusha riders, as well as the arrival of WorldTour star Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates). Owners promise to keep its Israel identity as it moves to the WorldTour, and will likely keep its crop of homegrown Israeli prospects under contract.