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Alexander Kolobnev returns to Katusha this week in the final chapter of his long-running saga dating back to his positive drugs test during the 2011 Tour de France.
The Russian squad confirmed that the 30-year-old Kolobnev would return to the team immediately for the remainder of the 2012 season.
Team officials said, due to a training accident, it is not clear when Kolobnev will return to competition, but the news comes as validation for Kolobnev, who was cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month.
“I am very happy to receive a proposal to become a part of Katusha Team. I had a very hard period of time in my life, but I passed it already, it’s behind me,” Kolobnev said in a team release. “I thank Russian Cycling Federation and its President Igor Makarov for the big support, was provided me. With the help of Mr. Makarov I can ride for Katusha again. I think, I have enough power and motivation to strength the team as in classics race as well as in other races of the season.”
Returning to Katusha is good news for Kolobnev, whose life turned upside down when he tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide during the 2011 Tour and withdrew during the fifth stage. He was the lone positive during last year’s Tour.
Kolobnev always denied he was using performance-enhancing products, but decided to stay mum until his case reached CAS.
In a surprise decision in late February, CAS ruled that Kolobnev’s use of the drug was justified by “medical reasons unrelated to performance” and refused to impose a racing ban. CAS rejected an appeal by the UCI, stating that Kolobnev was taking hydrochlorothiazide for a long-existing vascular condition.
It its ruling last month, the CAS panel wrote: “The product, recommended by Kolobnev’s doctor in 2009, had actually been indicated to supplement vascular disease affecting the athlete, and not assist the athlete in recovering from physical effort or better prepare for a sporting performance.”
Kolobnev was fined 1,500 euros and ordered to pay court costs, but avoided a suspension, a small price to pay in what could have been a career-crippling case.
It’s not clear if Kolobnev will return in time for the upcoming Ardennes classics. In 2010, he was second to Alexander Vinokourov at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, third in the 2009 Giro di Lombardia and second in the 2008 Clásica San Sebastián.
Kolobnev garnered headlines last fall when Swiss magazine L’Illustre quoted a series of emails between the Russian and Alexander Vinokourov discussing the latter’s alleged payoff for the race win at Liège in 2010.
A two-time Russian national champion, Kolobnev was second in the 2009 world championships and was bumped to the bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after Davide Rebellin tested positive for CERA-EPO.