Russian squad a force to be reckoned with on all fronts
Katusha Team Report Card
WorldTour Ranking: 3rd/19
Win Count: 30
Top riders: Joaquim Rodriguez (1st); Dani Moreno (12th); Simon Spilak (21st).
Katusha is one of the very few UCI WorldTour squads that can honestly state they were a force to be reckoned with - and a winning one - on all fronts and through the entire season. And that’s not even totally thanks to Joaquim Rodriguez, even if he was crowned the UCI WorldTour’s number one rider for a third time in four years and won races from the Tour of Oman’s toughest mountain stage in February to the Il Lombardia Classic for a second year running in October. In between, of course, came one of Katusha’s high points of the season - Rodriguez clinching his and the Russian team’s first ever Tour de France podium, with third in Paris, and one of his most frustrating near-misses, silver in the world championships.
When Rodriguez was either not racing, such as in the cobbled Classics, riders like Luca Paolini with his victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kept Katusha in the headlines. And when Purito was injured, like in the Fleche Wallonne, teammate Dani Moreno stepped into the breach. Moreno repeated that feat in the first two thirds of the Vuelta a España, with repeat stage wins and a spell in the overall lead prior to Rodriguez finally hitting a solid vein of form to take fourth overall and an impressive stage victory on the Naranco summit in Oviedo.
Apart from Moreno, 2013 has also confirmed the continuing rise of Slovenian all-rounder Simon Spilak, with victories in the GP Frankfurt, a stage and second overall in Romandie and the GP Miguel Indurain. For confirmation of his Moreno’s dramatic progression, look no further than the WorldTour classification, where Moreno has jumped over 40 places compared to 2012, and Spilak almost 20, to 21st.
Bunch sprints are perhaps the only area where Katusha needs to progress, although Norway’s fastman Alexandre Kristoff, when on form, has been proving all but unstoppable - as the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist showed when he blitzed the field in his home stage race, as well as in stages of the Tour de Suisse and the Three Days of De Panne.
As for the future, Ekimov has also said the team is aiming to broaden its Russian base, and local rider Sergey Chernetskiy’s domination of the Tour de the Fjords, a top Scandinavian race, at the age of 22, bodes well for that.
Concluding the season with 30 victories and 80 podium spots, as well as 1340 WorldTour points (a team record, too), is an impressive turn-around from the chaotic situation that Katusha found itself in at the start of the year, with the team’s place in the WorldTour in serious doubt and Rodriguez threatening to quit unless the team was guaranteed a Tour de France ride. Their difficulties were only resolved in the middle of February thanks to CAS insisting they belonged in the WorldTour, and after the pressure lifted the Russian squad has been consistently punching above their weight.
What to expect in 2014
Team manager Viatcheslav Ekimov has said that Rodriguez will return to his 2012 season program and take part in the Giro and the Vuelta. That has yet to be confirmed by the Catalan himself, but certainly the Giro route looks far better for the pint-sized climber than the Tour de France.
Other than that, following a year of multiple near-misses - silver in the Worlds, second in Liege, fourth in the Vuelta are all results that must rankle given how close Rodriguez came to going at least one better in each - and some spectacular successes, the Catalan will be fighting harder than ever for his (and his team’s) first ever Grand Tour victory.
Katusha could well be the UCI WorldTour team with the fewest rider transfers for 2013. Russian all-rounder Egor Silin returns after a couple of years in Astana, and three more Russian stagiaires Mikhael Antonov, Sergey Nikolaev and Maxim Razumov, are expected to continue. But there have been no big-name arrivals.
For a Giro and Vuelta winner and Tour podium finisher, Denis Menchov had the lowest of low key departures from professional cycling, exiting in the middle of May because of knee injuries. It is true that Menchov had done little racing in 2013, but his track record - which showed no sign of really tailing off and included a stage win on the Bola del Mundo summit finish in the Vuelta last year - and excellent work as a domestique in later years made his absence a notable one. Former Clasica San Sebastian winner Xavier Florencio, a valued support worker for Rodriguez, is the other relatively high-profile exit, although he will continue as a team sports director.
The biggest losses, in fact, are perhaps on the managerial side, with Erik Zabel, who looked after the team’s young sprinters, being shown the door after the 1998 Tour de France report into doping was published, and gifted sports director Valerio Piva being ‘poached’ by BMC.
Who to watch
Maxim Belkov’s stage win into Firenze in appalling weather in the Giro d’Italia was one of Katusha’s breakthrough results, and more could be expected of him and the younger generation of Russian riders. Spilak’s steady progress has now reached a point where bigger wins feel all but inevitable and Ekimov says he is confident that Moreno can pull off more major results, too, particularly if the Spanish veteran is no longer racing alongside his close friend Rodríguez so much.