The Katusha team unveiled a new title sponsor on Tuesday, with shampoo brand Alpecin confirming it is switching their backing after two seasons with the Giant team. From 2017, therefore, the Katusha team will be known as Katusha-Alpecin.
The agreement had been rumoured since the summer, when the Giant-Alpecin team announced that Sunweb would become its new title sponsor from 2017. Alpecin signed a four-year agreement when it joined Iwan Spekenbrink's team in 2015, but that will come to an early end.
"Cycling is no different to football, where players, managers and sponsors can change every year. It's part of the game," said Alpecin's managing partner Eduard R. Dörrenberg when asked about the switch at a press conference at the Alpecin headquarters in Bielefield, Germany.
"As important changes were made in the team, we had to review our strategic goals. We then realised that we could, and should, take a new and, for us, very exciting direction in view of the current situation."
Alpecin is a German brand and their arrival can be seen as part of the Katusha team’s drive to achieve a more international identity and shed their reputation as a "closed" and unapproachable team.
The team has always had a very Russian identity, owned by oligarch Igor Makarov and with a Russian sponsor and core of riders, but they recently confirmed they will compete under a Swiss licence in 2017, and have signed nine new non-Russian riders for 2017 to take the count of nationalities on the roster up to 14.
"The clear transformation of Team Katusha, from a predominately national team to a solid international project, was already very visible in the 2016 peloton," read a statement from the team, with board member Alexis Schoeb adding: "Our move to Switzerland is especially symbolically important."
Alpecin share Katusha’s vision, the brand having had a strong German emphasis but now looking to adopt a more global strategy. They played a part in the resurgence of cycling in Germany, which had fallen out of love with the sport as it was buffeted by doping scandals, and joined Giant as a sponsor in 2015 when Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, the two poster boys of the new German wave, were both on the team.
"The team, the cyclists, the entire organisation and Alpecin as the title sponsor will begin the 2017 season with a fresh start with a clear international direction," said Dörrenberg.
"Two years ago we started our involvement in cycling. Many people were initially very critical but in the end it was a great success. Now we see major opportunities for this new approach. In addition to possible sporting successes, we will continue to support German cyclists and positively change cycling as a whole."
After Kittel left Giant-Alpecin at the end of last season, Degenkolb will join Trek-Segafredo in 2017. Alpecin will still have a high-profile German rider as an ambassador after Tony Martin agreed to join from Etixx-QuickStep, and they'll also join forces at Katusha with German bike manufacturer Canyon.
"We found each other, we are on the same wavelength, and look forward to having a long marriage together," added Schoeb.
Along with Martin, the chief bread winners at Katusha-Alpecin will be expected to be Alexander Kristoff, a past winner of Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, and rising Grand Tour talent Ilnur Zakarin.
The team has also signed: Mads Würtz Schmidt (Team Virtu Pro–Veloconcept), Maurits Lammertink (Roompot-Oranje Peloton), Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie–Bruxelles), José Gonçalves (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Rick Zabel (BMC), Jenthe Biermans (SEG Racing), Reto Hollenstein (IAM Cycling) and Robert Kišerlovski (Tinkoff).