The Russian Katusha squad may have found a novel solution to the UCI’s rejection of their bid for a WorldTour license.
Team officials announced today that they’ve arranged a deal with the financially struggling Euskatel-Euskadi squad. The Basque outfit had plans to sell two team buses in order to meet payroll but now Katusha will take care of these debts in return for Euskatel’s WorldTour license.
“We have taken a bold initiative and it is a win for both teams,” said Katusha manager Viatcheslav Ekimov. “When the UCI shocked us with their foolish decision, we decided we had to do whatever it took to get a WorldTour license.”
Euskatel’s boss Miguel Madariaga told Basque radio that he is thrilled with the Katusha offer. “This is salvation for the team and for the Euskadi Foundation. Now we keep the buses — which Samuel Sanchez told me was a necessity — and we have placed the team back on a firm footing.”
According to several sources, the Basque squad realized that their WorldTour license was worth even more than the two buses valued at €918,000. “When Katusha came to us, we said yes because for us it doesn’t really matter whether we are WorldTour or Pro Conti,” said Madariaga. “We are the cool Basque Men of Orange and every race wants us. We can get a wild card we want.”
The details of the financial arrangement have not been released but Ekimov insists everything is legal. “The UCI can do nothing about this. We have already spoken to the auditors at Ernst & Young. We said we would investigate every possible option and sometimes you must be creative,” said Ekimov. “Katusha is a WorldTour team and we are stronger than ever.”
The deal is both surprising and unorthodox but according the Ekimov, his team had few choices. “What were we supposed to do — take our case to the Court for Arbitration in Sport? We’d waste a year doing that. The UCI put us in this difficult and unfair position and we had to react quickly.”
Katusha’s top ranked rider Joaquin Rodriguez, who finished on the podium on this year’s Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, was caught off-guard by the unexpected news. “This is crazy but I must say, any solution is a good one. If the Euskatel deal works out then I am happy — and happy that we can help a Spanish team,” said Rodriguez. “We must be patient and get this matter resolved as soon as possible.”
At Euskatel, the novel financial arrangement was met with enthusiasm by riders and staff. “Thank God they saved the team buses,” said Samuel Sanchez. “That would have been embarrassing. I wasn’t looking forward to changing in a mini-van. It is no surprise that there are big changes happening in cycling. We must do whatever it takes to survive.”
As of this moment the UCI has refused comment on the “Bailout for License” deal, issuing only a short statement on the governing body’s website. “The UCI acknowledges the news that Team Katusha has circumvented proper legal rules in attempting to purchase a WorldTour license from Euskatel. Our lawyers are currently reviewing the matter,” read the statement.
While legal experts are already questioning the validity of the Katusha deal, Euskatel’s Madariaga thinks there is nothing the UCI can do to prevent it. “Let us be honest. What is Mr. McQuaid to do — is he going to sue us? He doesn’t have the time or the money and he’s already being sued by Kimmage and Fuller and everybody else,” said Madariaga. “Does he want to see Euskatel fold? It would be another black mark against him when he is fighting for his life.”
News of the Katusha-Euskatel license deal was met with criticism by some team managers. “No, this is absurd, really, a compete joke,” said Marc Madiot, manager of Francaise des Jeux. “Ignore for a moment the preposterous nature of this arrangement. Now you have a Russian team supporting a Basque team in every race. What happens when Rodriguez needs help chasing down a rival and suddenly the whole Euskatel squad goes to the front? No, we cannot allow this madness.”
While not condemning the action, Garmin-Sharp’s Jonathan Vaughters was also dubious about the transaction. “At the end of the day, it’s just another sign of the financial instability of the sport. These are issues we’ve tried to address with the UCI but maybe they’re listening now. I love those orange guys and if they need extra money to gas up their bus, I’m sure we could throw some euros their way.”
It remains to be seen how the UCI will react to this extraordinary turn of events. However, Igor Sputniknov, a member of the Russian Cycling Federation, sounded an ominous note. “Katusha will fight to the death. Mr. McQuaid should remember the frozen dead bodies of the German soldiers at Stalingrad. This is war.”