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Katusha case creates problem for Giro’s wildcard selection

Giro organizers meet this week to discuss four remaining invitations, but Katusha licensing case makes a decision difficult

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MILAN (VN) — Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport will attempt to select its final invitations for the 2013 race in a meeting tomorrow despite Katusha’s lingering license case.

“I don’t know if we will be able to make a decision at that point because of the way things are going with Katusha; it’s all up in the air,” Giro director Michele Acquarone told VeloNews over the weekend. “We are going to try out of respect for the other teams who are waiting so that they can organize their seasons.”

The 18 first division ProTeams have guaranteed places in the Giro because the race is part of the WorldTour series. Those teams include reigning champion Ryder Hesjedal’s Garmin-Sharp and the 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins’ Sky. The second division teams must vie for four wildcard invitations. Androni Giocattoli already picked up the first available invitation thanks to winning the race’s Italian classification last year.

Acquarone will meet with four other RCS Sport representatives to mull over the 10 candidates. U.S. team Novo Nordisk is fighting for a spot with Italian squads Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, IAM Cycling (Swi), Landbouwkrediet-Crelan (Bel), NetApp-Endura (Ger), Europcar (Fra), Sojasun (Fra) and Colombia-Coldeportes (Col). The Russian Katusha team is the 10th and most complicated candidate thanks to its court case against cycling’s governing body, the UCI.

Katusha nearly won the Giro last year with Joaquím Rodríguez. The Spaniard held the leader’s pink jersey for 10 days and came within 16 seconds of beating Hesjedal in Milan. The Spaniard went on to win the season-long WorldTour classification after finishing third at the Vuelta a España and winning Flèche Wallonne and the Giro di Lombardia.

The UCI’s license commission denied Katusha’s application for renewal in the first division when selecting the 18 ProTeams on December 10. The team refused to accept the decision and appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A representative from the Swiss court told VeloNews this morning that it has yet to schedule a hearing date.

RCS Sport is waiting anxiously because in addition to the Giro d’Italia, running May 4 to 26, it needs to issue wildcard invitations for Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and the Giro di Lombardia. Strade Bianche runs in just two months’ time.

“I wouldn’t like to wait until the end of January and keep everyone hanging,” Acquarone said. “I’m happy how we did it last year; I think this shows that we respect what the teams do to prepare for our races. This is the right way to do it.”

If CAS were to rule in favor of Katusha, it would force the UCI to reconsider its licensing for 2013, though the decision would not likely directly demand that Katusha receive a top-tier license. However, the license commission reportedly refused Katusha’s application due to numerous ethical violations, including multiple doping positives and a race-fixing controversy, over its four years in the first division. The CAS could side with the commission and reject Katusha’s appeal. The ruling would force Katusha to fold or rush to apply for a Pro Continental license.

Acquarone acknowledged the ethical issues, but said it is up to the UCI to decide.

“It’s simple: if UCI gives Katusha a second division license then that means it’s suited to race in our races,” he said. “If there are ethical problems, then Katusha should not have any type of license.”

He added that he believes Katusha will end up with a second division license and be among the candidates for the Giro’s three wildcard invitations.

Acquarone and the other RCS Sport representatives, however, may just forget Katusha all together because either way, Rodríguez will skip the Giro. “Purito” said last month that he would focus on the Tour de France this year and that if Katusha were to fail in its appeal for a first division license, he would join another team to ensure his place in the race.

“We are going to have to evaluate it Tuesday, taking a look at everyone’s proposals,” Acquarone said. “We will make our decision best on what’s best in that moment, and we’ll let the people decide if it was the best decision or not.”