Rodriguez may stay with Katusha as he races Oman with CAS decision looming

Joaquim Rodríguez says he is focused on the classics and may stick it out with Katusha if CAS rules against the Russian squad this week

MUSCAT (VN) — Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) races the Tour of Oman this week with his attention on the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. The CAS met in Lausanne Friday to hear Katusha’s appeal of the UCI’s refusal to grant the Russian squad a WorldTour license for 2013, and the Spaniard’s season hangs in the balance.

If Katusha fails to receive a first division license it is unlikely to receive an invitation for the 2013 Tour de France after Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) left it out of Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Rodríguez said last year, when he finished second in the Giro d’Italia and third in the Vuelta a España, that the Tour was his goal. Katusha or not, he is bent on riding the Tour this year and has said he will leave the team if it is not guaranteed a start.

At the start of the first leg of the Tour of Oman on Monday, Rodríguez said that he was keeping his distance and trying to focus on racing.

“It was hard on me in December when [the UCI Licensing Commission] made its decision. Afterwards, knowing it was out of my hands, I just keep at my work, training,” Rodríguez told VeloNews. “It’s better for me not to think about it.”

“Purito” explained that his agent had received calls from several interested teams that realize Rodríguez may be ready to jump ship. He refused to name names when asked.

With budget woes and already a Tour contender respectively, Spain’s Euskaltel-Euskadi and Movistar are reportedly not possible destinations. Italy’s Lampre-Merida may be willing to make space for him.

Rodríguez said on Monday that he might just stay in Katusha, first division or not.

“I’m doing my work [for the Tour] as was planned this offseason in November. The Tour de France is on my mind, yes, but my first goal is the classics. I’ll race Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Catalunya; afterwards, I’ll think of the Tour,” Rodríguez said. “Anyway, the Tour organizer may select our team as a wildcard team.”

The Giro d’Italia evaluated Katusha as a second division team last month when it selected its wildcard teams and overlooked it. The Tour appears likely to do the same when it names its four teams. If the Critérium du Dauphiné roster is any indication, it may invite French teams Europcar, Sojasun, and Cofidis, and either IAM Cycling or NetApp-Endura.

Katusha placed second in the world rankings behind Sky last year. Rodríguez was world number one. However, like the Licensing Commission, the Tour could have a problem with its ethics.

Several team riders have tested positive in the team’s four years in the first division and others have been linked to doping investigations. Its general manager is Viatcheslav Ekimov, Lance Armstrong’s long-time teammate and allegedly a redacted name in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Reasoned Decision in its case against Armstrong.

Further, a CAS ruling in Katusha’s favor merely sends the license decision back to the UCI, which may again decide against the Russians.

But Rodríguez sees the situation with rose-colored glasses.

“I’ve done everything right and I don’t know why we were left out of the first division,” Rodriguez said. “Up until now, CAS hasn’t given us reason, so we have no reason of knowing. For sure, this week, when they say yes or no, they will also deliver a reason why or why not.”

CAS plans to give its ruling in the case this week, clearing one hurdle for Rodríguez’s decision.