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‘Purito’ ready to pack it on Katusha

Lawyers for the WorldTour champion press to force Joaquim Rodríguez's exit from embattled Katusha

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LEON, Spain (VN) — Joaquim Rodríguez is not taking any chances on the future of Katusha and is poised to jump ship on the troubled Russian team, perhaps as soon as this week.

According to a report Tuesday in the Spanish daily El Periódico, Rodríguez is not going to wait to hear the fate of Katusha and has asked the UCI permission to break his contract with the Russians.

UCI rules allow riders to leave a team if it loses its WorldTour license, but with Katusha’s future still up in the air, lawyers representing the Spanish star have petitioned the UCI to allow him to leave the team immediately.

El Periódico also reported that Rodríguez has reached a three-year agreement with a WorldTour-licensed team for 2013 that will assure him a place in the Tour de France.

Once news hit in December that the UCI License Commission had denied Katusha its WorldTour license, Rodríguez began making plans to find a new team that could assure his presence in the 2013 Tour.

Rodríguez, who finished second in the Giro d’Italia and third in the Vuelta a España in 2012, is convinced that this year’s mountainous Tour parcours is his best chance to reach the podium in cycling’s most important stage race.

In an interview with MARCA last month, Rodríguez said he did not want to have to wait on wildcard invitations to plan his racing schedule.

Katusha, meanwhile, is battling to keep its WorldTour spot with a challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Despite hopes for a speedy conclusion, CAS officials told VeloNews yesterday that a hearing date has still not been set.

In addition to losing its WorldTour license, Katusha remains in limbo because it also does not hold a Pro Continental license as it takes the fight to CAS. The team is essentially not licensed to race as the WorldTour opener at the Tour Down Under comes in just two weeks.

Winning at CAS would not necessarily assure Katusha a spot in the sport’s top league, said UCI officials, who confirmed to VeloNews that the WorldTour would remain at 18 teams.

That means if Katusha wins its CAS appeal, the UCI’s license commission would reconvene to reconsider the final places in the league, UCI officials said.

That could throw the WorldTour into turmoil if Katusha were to regain its license and another team is removed. In December, the UCI confirmed the final 18 licenses, with Argos-Shimano and Saxo-Tinkoff making the cut at the expense of Katusha.

The snag comes just as the Giro d’Italia is poised to release its wildcard invitations for 2013, with four teams waiting for a spot in the season’s first grand tour.

Giro director Michele Acquarone told VeloNews that the Katusha situation was complicating organizers’ decision to release wildcard invitations not only to the Giro, but also to other RCS Sport events, such as Strade Bianche, TIrreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo.

Escape plan

Rodríguez, meanwhile, does not want to risk having to wait for the Katusha drama to play out and has asked the UCI to allow him to break his contract immediately, El Periódico reported.

If Rodríguez does get the green light to leave Katusha, his manager, ex-pro Angel Edo, says there is plenty of interest from teams for the 2012 WorldTour champion, despite the fact that final-hour contracts are often hard to find as most teams have already finalized their lineups.

Most of the major teams already have their top GC candidates in place, but a rider as prolific as Rodríguez should be able to find a team that is interested. Another question, however, is who would have the pocketbook to pay his salary.

Last week, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Argos was Rodríguez’s destination, something the newly minted WorldTour team was quick to publicly deny.

Rodríguez already has a ticket to fly to Argentina to debut his season at the Tour de San Luís with Katusha. It’s a flight he does not want to take, at least not with the Russians.