They are enjoying arguably their best-ever season but Katusha team boss Viatcheslav Ekimov has little time to bask in any glory as he attempts to secure the long-term future of the team.
The Russian outfit’s WorldTour licence expires at the end of this season and although they have signed Classics hitman Alexander Kristoff for a further two seasons, Ekimov has at least 10 riders, including Joaquim Rodriguez, out of contract at the end of the year. To add to Ekimov’s in-tray he must also secure a confirmed sponsorship from Katusha for next year.
"This year we started a new procedure with the licence so we have no problem with sponsor commitments and we have a bright future," Ekimov optimistically told Cyclingnews at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
"We have a contract with the sponsors until the end of the 2015 season. Alexander Kristoff signed a deal until the end of 2017 but I think we’ll extend the team contract beyond 2016 by the end of this season."
Rodriguez – the team’s most consistent Grand Tour performer – is targeting the Tour de France this season. He is using the Critérium du Dauphiné as his final preparation race and Ekimov is in negotiations with the 36-year-old to extend his current contract.
"We’re currently talking to Purito. We’ve offered him a proposal and the situation looks good. We don’t know the length of the deal but I’d like to keep him in the team for at least one more year."
With a number of WorldTour Grand Tour riders on the market for next year, including Richie Porte, Rigoberto Uran, and Ryder Hesjedal, Ekimov could have his pick of potential signings, however the Russian appears devoted to Rodriguez at this stage, with youth development his second priority.
"We’re currently talking to a few guys but young neo-pros because we want to develop riders for the future. We have experience and if we can keep Purito I think that we’re complete,” he said.
"We don’t want to have too many Grand Tour riders in the same team. It can interrupt things. I’d like to clear things up with Purito first and then we’ll see what we can do.
"He’s 35 but I think he’s still at a good age in terms of performances. He still dreams of winning a Grand Tour and we’re focusing on that with him."
The Tour roster
Ekimov is yet to announce his full roster for the Tour de France but his long list includes 10 riders. Rodriguez will share leadership with Kristoff, who will target sprint stages and the Green Jersey. Chasing two jerseys in the Tour is manageable, according to Ekimov. “We have 10 names for the Tour at the moment but we’ll have two groups at the race, one for Purito and one for Kristoff.
"Balancing that can be challenging but I think it’s logical, at least in our team. The support group for each rider can help both our leaders."