Door ajar for Paolini at Katusha if cleared in cocaine case

Ekimov says Italian needs to work on his image and prove his dedication

There is a chance that Luca Paolini could ride once again for Katusha next season, should he be cleared of any wrongdoing by B-sample analysis of his positive test for cocaine.

Paolini was informed of an adverse analytical finding for the substance, which is banned in competition, at this year’s Tour de France and was later evicted from the race before seeing his contract with Katusha – which was due to run until the end of 2016 – terminated with immediate effect.

Almost five months on, his case is still pending with the UCI. Katusha general manager Viatcheslav Ekimov believes there could be an outcome very soon and is weighing up his next course of action, which will obviously depend on whether the rider is cleared or served a suspension. Although he feels Paolini has already inflicted damage upon the reputation of his team, Ekimov told Cyclingnews that he is open to talking with the Italian about a possible return to the Russian team. 

“If there is the decision that Luca is able to ride, we will take a special meeting, we’ll sit down, talk to Luca, to his agent, and we’ll see how we can be there, either involved or not involved, together or completely apart," he said. 

“Luca is Luca, he’s a great bike rider, a very experienced rider, but on the other hand his reputation has been damaged by himself. It’s not always easy to restore your reputation, especially when we’re talking about the whole team, the image of the team.

"First we will see what the result is, and second, what we can do about it. It’s difficult to say now; I’m not excluding anything. Luca is a very experienced rider – he could be a big part of the team, not necessarily Katusha, but any team."

Ekimov has had very limited contact with Paolini since the Tour; he has reached out over the phone on a few occasions but hasn't received a reply, and the only dialogue has been in the form of emails exchanged via Paolini's agent. "Luca never expresses his emotions – it’s difficult to understand what’s going on inside his head," he commented, before explaining how Paolini's mindset was crucial to any possible rapprochement, or indeed any future the Italian may have in the sport. 

"It’s about how the guy is motivated. Maybe he’s just thinking he’s not going to return to cycling - we don’t know. I think if Luca wants to race again, he needs to continue training all the time. I think he is carrying on training. If he’s training now that’s one of the signs that he wants to return to cycling," Ekimov told Cyclingnews.

"Pro cycling, he know's it's not the place to play dirty games, because it's not only your reputation, it’s the reputation of the team, of the people who employ you. It’s a lot of responsibility, so that’s something he needs to understand.

"The thing is, he has to work on his image, on his reputation, he has to prove the motivation to ride again, dedicate his time to professional work. Without this, he has no chance."

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