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By Andrew Hood
New Russian super-team Katusha and its eye-popping 15 million euro annual budget are safe from the broiling world economy – at least for now.
That’s what Katusha team president Andrei Tchmil assured VeloNews during an interview Friday.
“The situation is difficult right now in the world economy, but nothing has changed,” Tchmil said. “We have the support of our sponsors. We are moving forward with confidence.”
While teams around the ProTour league are tightening belts and hoping that sponsors hold steady in a souring economic climate, Katusha strides confidently into its debut season with support from the highest levels of the Russian economy.
“Our budget hasn’t changed by a cent,” he continued. “The money is there, everything that was promised to us. We can continue our work so that the riders can race their bikes.”
The 45-year-old Tchmil is the driving force behind what will be the first major Russian-sponsored professional team to race at the highest level of the sport.
Support includes Itera president and political insider Igor Makarov. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has also signed off on the project.
Tchmil said Katusha’s sponsors aren’t looking to use the team’s jersey as a billboard to garner some media exposure.
State-sponsored businesses such as Gazprom, Itera and Rostehnologii are backing the Katusha team, which is entering the season as part of an ambitious, eight-year plan to resuscitate the long-dormant Russian cycling.
“This is a political project. They’re in this for more than just publicity, but that’s also part of the puzzle,” he said. “Most importantly, we want to build a Russian team on a big scale and demonstrate that we can win big races.”
The professional team is part of a four-pronged strategy to return Russia as a cycling power. Also in the works as part of the Russian Global Cycling Project, which not only includes the pro team, but also the Sonchi Tour bike race, a new cycling institute and more support for the Russian cycling federation.
Tchmil opened conversations with Russian authorities in 2000, and said “now is the right time” to move forward, despite the suddenly tumultuous economic landscape.
The team used its windfall wisely to sign such marquee names as Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans, Filippo Pozzato, Vladimir Karpets and Toni Colom as well as veteran Russians to round out the youth-heavy holdovers from Tinkoff Credit Systems.
With the star-studded lineup, the team is hoping it can snag invitations to race the spring classics as well as the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.