2012 season results in lingering questions
2012 report card: Katusha finished the season with the World's No. 1-ranked rider yet again with Joaquím Rodríguez, as well as second on the UCI WorldTour team's rankings but it wasn't enough to secure them a licence for the big league in 2013. The UCI's shock announcement that Katusha would not be in the WorldTour in 2013 occurred in the first week December. The team has been informed by the UCI via their 'reasoned decision' on the matter, with indications that it comes down to a failure by the team to meet the ethical criteria. There is an appeal to the Court of Arbitration to Sport over the matter with details of the extraordinary turn of events probably not revealed in their entirety until then.
The team earned 29 victories this past season, and remarkably only July was the lone racing month where no result came. In saying that, the team must still rue missed chances given Rodríguez lost the maglia rosa on the final day of the Giro d'Italia and the Spaniard lost the lead in the Vuelta a España on Stage 17 after 13 days at the top of GC.
Rodríguez was indeed the star of Katusha's show with 'Purito' making amends for his runner-up placings at Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne to Philippe Gilbert in 2011, by claiming his first Classics victory at the Belgian opener. The 33-year-old closed out the season by winning Il Lombardia, the first Spaniard to do so, something he described as "the most important triumph of my whole career."
Time trialling remains Rodríguez's Achilles heel, and until he improves or Grand Tour race organisers come up with a parcours which doesn't hinge on the chrono, Purito will have to be content with minor placings when it comes to the general classification.
Another standout for the Russian team was Daniel Moreno, riding in his second year with Katusha. Moreno took stage wins at Vuelta a Andalucia - Ruta del Sol, Critérium du Dauphiné, Vuelta a Burgos (where he also won the overall), plus the one-day GP Miguel Indurain, while his service to Rodríguez was rewarded with fifth overall at the Vuelta a España.
Meantime, Alexander Kristoff was impressive in his first season with the team having moved from BMC following a two-year stint. The 25-year-old claimed wins at the Tour of Denmark, Three Days of De Panne, but the undoubted highlight would no doubt be his bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the road race behind Alexandre Vinokourov and Rigoberto Uran.
Sprint great Oscar Freire's final season, having initially planned to retire at the end of 2011, ended in a whimper with two stage victories - at the Tour Down Under and also the Vuelta a Andalucia - Ruta del Sol - further indication that the speed game is very different now compared to the last decade when the Spaniard was at the top. He finished his career attempting to win unprecedented fourth world championship but managed 10th.
The star of Denis Galimzyanov came crashing to earth with the revelation of his positive test for EPO. The Russian denied that the team had any role to play but regardless on the back of three other cases since 2009 it's not a good look.
Best signing: No new signings for 2013.
Biggest loss: Not an individual, but the WorldTour licence is what has to hurt the most. If Katusha is not successful in their appeal of the UCI's decision to the CAS, at the very least, indications are that it will cost them Rodríguez. The Spaniard is eyeing the 2013 Tour de France at the place to finally secure a Grand Tour victory and he has said that he will leave the team in order to be on the start line in Corsica.
Man to watch: If Rodríguez goes to greener Grand Tour pastures, then responsibility for the team's GC ambitions will likely fall to former Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España winner, Denis Menchov. However, his 2012 form in the grand tours was hardly convincing despite a stage win at the Vuelta and Giro boss Michele Acquarone said that the possible presence of Menchov was not a big enough carrot for him to grant the team a wildcard. Does the loss of Rodríguez change the overall direction of the team and where they focus their efforts, giving a rider the likes of Kristoff to be given more of an opportunity? Perhaps. With so little known about the season ahead for Katusha it may be a better idea to keep an eye on the CAS and UCI boss, Pat McQuaid.
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