LEON, Spain (VN) — The UCI has cited “ethical reasons” behind its dramatic decision to deny Katusha a place in the 18-team WorldTour league for 2013.
According to a report in La Gazzetta dello Sport, the UCI outlined several ethical question marks surrounding the Russia-backed team in its “reasoned decision,” which it forwarded to the team yesterday.
UCI officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the story in the Italian sports daily cites the UCI documentation sent to Katusha officials Tuesday a week after its controversial decision to not renew the ProTeam license essential to guarantee starts in all the major grand tours and one-day classics.
According to the report, the UCI catalogued a string of doping problems within the world’s second-ranked team dating back to the EPO positives of Toni Colom and Christian Pfannberger in the 2009 season, as well as the EPO positive of Russian sprinter Denis Galimzyanov in April. The letter also points to the doping positive of Alexander Kolobnev during the 2011 Tour de France, later absolved by the Russian cycling federation. It also refers to the alleged selling of the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège by Kolobnev to ex-pro Alexander Vinokourov for 150,000 euros.
The laundry list continues with links between four Katusha riders — Denis Menchov, Mikhail Ignatiev, Vladimir Gusev and Kolobnev — and controversial Italian Dr. Michele Ferrari in the ongoing Padua investigation.
Finally, the UCI cites the removal of German team manager Hans-Michael Holczer, who was replaced with Russian ex-pro Viatcheslav Ekimov, a longtime teammate of now-disgraced rider Lance Armstrong.
The scathing report — sent in confidence to Katusha yet leaked to La Gazzetta yesterday – came more than a week after the UCI license committee snubbed the Russia-backed team for a ProTeam license extension for the 2013 season.
That decision has thrown the team into turmoil. Without the coveted ProTeam license, the squad currently has no license at all. So far, the team has defiantly vowed to fight for its ProTeam license in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but its future is far from certain.
Many of its biggest successes have come thanks to 2012 WorldTour champion Joaquim Rodríguez, who is at liberty to leave the team if it cannot secure its place on the WorldTour league.
The spat is the latest round in increasing tensions between cycling’s governing body and the ever-ambitious Russians. Since debuting Katusha in the 2009 season, the team has not quite lived up to its own billing to revive Russia’s cycling glory, but it has butted heads with the UCI on several occasions.
Not mentioned publicly in the UCI’s letter are behind-the-scenes power struggles involving team owner Igor Makarov, who not only bankrolls the Katusha project, but is also president of the Russian cycling federation as well as a member of the UCI executive committee.
As one of the richest men in cycling, natural gas tycoon Makarov has made noise that he might be interested in promoting his favorite candidate — ex-pro Andrei Tchmil — to challenge current UCI president Pat McQuaid in the next round of elections.
The Russians have also stumbled in high-profile promises dating back two years to create a WorldTour race. Organizers backed out of a commitment to create a weeklong race near the Black Sea, which initially appeared on the 2012 calendar, due in large part to increasing financial and logistical commitments to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
No such event appears on the 2013 calendar, yet officials are hopeful a race can be ready for 2014.
Katusha officials, attending a team presentation in Brescia, Italy, on Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.
Katusha, however, reaffirmed its intention to battle the UCI snub in a challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On Tuesday, the team said it would battle in “civilized ways.”
“After receiving the document, the Russian team Katusha confirms its determination to defend its rights using all civilized ways in order to receive the WorldTour license, including the already made appeal to (CAS),” read the team statement.
A CAS decision should be expected within 40 days of filing, which means the case might or might not be considered before the start of the 2013 WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under on January 22.
One question remains: what happens if Katusha wins its challenge at CAS and earns a WorldTour license?
Will the league include 19 teams or will one of the teams that earned a license in the round announced last week — teams including Argos-Shimano, Lotto-Belisol and Saxo-Tinkoff — see its place revoked?
An UCI official told VeloNews via email on Wednesday afternoon that “18 teams will remain 18 teams.”
According to UCI rules (Art. 2.15.026 and 2.15.241), if Katusha should win the CAS appeal, the license commission would restart the review process for all seven teams that applied for extension for 2013.
Joining Katusha on that list are Ag2r La Mondiale, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Garmin-Sharp, Blanco (former Rabobank), Argos-Shimano and Saxo-Tinkoff.
So even if Katusha would win a CAS appeal, there’s no guarantee it would regain a spot in the WorldTour. And if it did prevail in a second review of the license commission, another team would be shoved out.