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Russian team no longer invited to the Tour Down Under
Katusha team manager Viacheslav Ekimov has said the Russian team does not want to start a war against the UCI to obtain a WorldTour licence for 2013 but has firmly rejected the reasons why the UCI Licence Commission refused their application, hinting that the lack of clarity of the ethical criteria raises suspicions about the way the UCI operates.
With team owner Igor Makarov unable to attend the official Katusha team presentation in Brescia, Ekimov was forced to face the media alone, flanked by team leader's Joaquim Rodriguez and Denis Menchov.
"This is not a war against the system or the UCI, it's just an attempt to have out rights respected and get what we deserve," he said after recalling Russian fighting spirit during the team presentation.
"All our sponsors have confirmed their support because they know the team will continue for many years to come. We're going to do all we can to keep developing Russian cycling."
Ekimov insisted that his own links to Lance Armstrong when they raced together at the US Postal team, and the Padua police investigation into several Katusha riders' relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari had not played a part in the Katusha team's WorldTour place rejection. He also claimed that the justification from Licence Commission did not mention the UCI investigation into allegations that Alexander Kolobnev sold the 2011 Liege-Bastogne-Liege to Alexandre Vinokourov, revealing that a majority of the influential UCI Management Committee supported the team.
"The statement the UCI issued about their decision doesn't include anything new. There is talk of four doping cases but the truth is that the Kolobnev positive from last year's Tour de France was dismissed, so can't be taken into account," Ekimov said, switching between Russian and English to get his argument across.
"During our meeting with the Licence Commission there were questions about Galimzyanov's case but he wrote a letter saying he acted alone and that the team wasn't involved. They asked us about an internal testing and what we're doing to fight doping. We said we'd be willing to pay for a doubling of the controls done by the UCI if it'd help. We wanted to put a penalty clause in riders' contracts but they wouldn't let us saying it wasn't legal."
The ethical criteria used by the UCI Licence commission remains cloaked in secrecy, with a lack of transparency a major hurdle in understanding the Katusha decision.
Ekimov refused to be drawn on the idea that Igor Makarov's hopes of replacing Pat McQuaid as UCI President may have been a factor in the Licence Commission's decision but was quick to point out that other teams have been struck by cases of doping, some more significant than Katusha, and yet they are part of the 2013 WorldTour teams.
"It's very hard to talk for the people who make the decisions. There are several different criteria that the WorldTour teams have to meet but its not very clear," Ekimov said.
"If there was a fixed system everyone would know but all the decision are taken by four people. There aren't clear criteria. That always provokes suspicion."
No Tour Down Under
Ekimov revealed that Katusha will not ride the Tour Down Under but defiantly insisted he was not working on a plan B for the 2013 season based on wild card invitations.
"We offered to pay the expenses for our place in the Tour Down Under but the organisers have told us we haven't got a place because he race is structured around having 19 teams. We're going to ride in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis and our European season will begin in Mallorca," he said.
"We believe we'll soon get a WorldTour licence and that things will soon be back to normal. For now we're working on Plan A, as if we're a WorldTour team."
The Katusha team's lawyers will spend Christmas preparing for their legal battle with the UCI at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The team hopes an interim decision may still allow them start the season in the WorldTour but they are worried that the ethical decision of the UCI Licence Commission may also affect their application for a Professional Continental licence.
As one member of the team pointed out to Cyclingnews, if Katusha is only given a Continental licence, it would be the end of the Russian global cycling project.