Katusha plans court battle with UCI over WorldTour license snub

The Russian Katusha team is planning to appeal its exclusion from the WorldTour to the Court of Arbitration for Sport

MILAN (VN) — The Katusha team is planning to wage war with the UCI over its exclusion from the WorldTour for 2013. The team confirmed to VeloNews today that it intends to appeal the sport’s high court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The Russian team must first wait for the UCI’s license commission to deliver its official explanation, after which point it has two weeks to appeal to CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland. Contacted by VeloNews, UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani said the commission’s explanation “should come in a very short period, in a few days.”

Katusha CEO Igor Makarov has the arsenal to fight. According to Forbes, he is the 854th richest man in the world, with $1.5 billion to his name. He presides over the Russian Cycling Federation and Russian natural gas giant Itera.

“I don’t know if he’s been in touch with (UCI president) Pat McQuaid,” said Carpani of Makarov.

Makarov, and indeed the whole of Katusha, should have seen problems on the horizon. The team was all smiles, however, when it won this year’s WorldTour rankings with Joaquím Rodríguez.

Rodríguez placed second in the Giro d’Italia and third in the Vuelta a España. He also won one-day classics Flèche Wallonne and the Giro di Lombardia.

Katusha’s tune changed, though, after the commission’s bad news.

“The UCI… by its actions completely violates the canons of sports ethics and causes irreparable moral and psychological harm to the athletes before the start of the new season,” read Katusha’s press statement yesterday. “The delay in explaining the reasons of the decisions only shows the lack of the significance of these reasons.”

The team should have sensed problems on November 2, when the commission called its management, along with teams Movistar and RadioShack, in for a meeting.

General manager Viatcheslav Ekimov and his outgoing predecessor, Hans-Michael Holczer, traveled to Switzerland on November 22 and met with the commission’s president, Pierre Zappelli. It was a closed-door meeting, but the talk would have focused on two of the commission’s four criteria for receiving a license: ethics and administration.

Though the team does not share its financial records, with its close ties to the Kremlin and oil money, Katusha’s coffers should not raise eyebrows, and with its Spanish star winning the WorldTour, the team stood on good financial and sporting ground – the third and fourth criteria.

The team said in its statement it was “extremely surprised by the lack of justification,” but Ekimov and Holczer knew the issues discussed and would have told Makarov. Doubts lingered because of a number of doping cases, including EPO positives for Denis Galimzyanov in 2012 and Antonio Colom and Christian Pfannberger in 2009, the frequent managerial changes (three general managers in four years), and the fact that the November 22 meeting took place at all.

The UCI started the fore-runner of the WorldTour, the ProTour, in 2005 to create an elite series. It developed into the WorldTour, which includes most major classics and the three grand tours. All first division teams, or ProTeams, have the golden ticket — the right to compete in the 29 races.

The commission grants only 18 ProTeam licenses. This year, 19 teams applied, so one team was bound to be left out. It could have been Saxo-Tinkoff, Argos-Shimano, or another team, but after four years in the top division, Katusha was bumped.

French team Europcar took it in stride when it was excluded last year. Argos too, and it returned to apply again this year.

Swiss team Phonak appealed to CAS when it was left out of the ProTour for 2005. It won the case and was included as the 20th ProTour team. The UCI reduced its top league later, limiting the WorldTour to just 18 teams.

Katusha officials say that the team head down the same path as Phonak rather than accept the UCI limit on the numbers in its WorldTour club. If it does race in the second division, Katusha could still compete in plenty of the big races via wildcard invitations. Many organizers will be happy to have the team racing, thanks to the number one-ranked Rodríguez.

The time out would allow Katusha to get its cards in order for next year’s registration and send a wake up call to the other fringe teams.