While cycling journalists assumed the battle for the final WorldTour spot was between Saxo-Tinkoff and Argos-Shimano, it turns out they both won entry into the Big Show. The surprise loser: Katusha, the Russian Global Cycling Shindig!
Here’s the UCI rejection notice: “The request from the team Katusha for registration in first division has been rejected. In accordance with UCI regulations, this team’s application has been forwarded to the UCI administration, so that the latter may assess the possibility of registering this team as a UCI Professional Continental Team.”
Who would have thought the team of 2012 WorldTour champion Joaquim Rodriguez, the pint-size climber who nearly won both the Giro and Vuelta a Espana, would have to beg to gain entry to the biggest stages races?
Once again the mysterious UCI approval process cries out for explanation. How does it work — throwing darts blindfolded, consulting a Ouija board, a executive vote after pub crawl in Aigle, Switzerland? With no clear answers, we’re left to guess on the weight given each factor — sporting, financial, administration and ethics.
Twisted Spoke thinks that Katusha’s failure to make any anti-doping media pronouncements has cost them their party invite. Fellas, you gotta know how to play the game!
In the weeks leading up to the final selection, Argos-Shimano went on a public anti-doping crusade. Top sprinter Marcel Kittel spoke out against doping and team manager Iwan Spekenbrink shouted that he wanted lifetime bans. ”We don’t want to see those people back in a team in the sport. Not in our team and not in other teams,” said Spekenbrink. Meanwhile, not a peep from the Russians.
Not to be outdone on the “doping is naughty” soundbites, Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador weighed in with this nugget: “For cycling, it should be zero tolerance,” he said. “I express myself less than certain others, but it is clear that there is no place for cheaters.” Meanwhile Russians silent, no cry of cleanliness, no promise of good hygiene.
The fact is, Katusha has a certain amount of dirty laundry. Old Postal employee Ekimov is the best candidate for the redacted Rider-11 in the US Anti-Doping Agency’s Reasoned Decision. Sprinter Denis Galimzyanov tested positive for EPO this season and Alexandr Kolobnev tested positive at last year’s Tour de France. While he was later cleared, Kolobnev is in deep merde for allegedly selling the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège to his pal Alexandre Vinokourov for £120,000.
These all fall into the bad ethics category and it gets worse. Katusha riders Kolobnev, Mikhail Ignatiev, Vladimir Gusev and Denis Menchov are all highlights in the on-going Padua investigation in Italy. By comparison, Saxo-Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis just has to try and ignore the Tyler Hamilton allegations that he encouraged his blood doping with Dr. Fuentes.
If you test positive, then you have to counteract that by tweeting something positive — drugs bad, our riders good, donate used bikes to Africa, build an elementary school in Haiti
In the Post-USADA firestorm, everybody has to yell as loud and as often as possible: “We’re clean. Look ma, no blood bags, no syringes.” Even Alexander Vinokourov and his Astana crew are trying to worm their way into the Movement for Credible Cycling — which has become a kind of Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
New Katusha boss Viatcheslav Ekimov — the rider Lance Armstrong held up as the consummate professional — was asleep at the wheel. Now maybe Eki, once a member of the most professional doping program in sports history, just misread the situation. Hey, he had the number one ranked rider in the world on his squad!
Maybe Ekimov — given his own personal history — felt a little uncomfortable making some sweeping PR statement against doping. Get with the program, Eki. A tainted past hasn’t prevented Alberto Contador or team sponsor Oleg Tinkov from making claims.
Charade or not, it’s now part of Joaquim Rodriguez’s job description that he needs to make several strong public anti-doping statements a year — and certainly one before each license renewal. “I am Purito and drugs are bad. I will cut the head and balls off anyone who dopes.” Something like that, more or less.
These days there are no guarantees for any rider or team or sponsor or even the UCI. President Patrick McQuaid is fighting to keep his job and barely has time for cocktail hour. There’s a nasty, noisy revolution taking place in pro cycling and everybody better wear their cleanest clothes.