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Katusha battle on
The Katusha team tried to shrug off the doubts about its future in professional cycling and questions about its ethics with a glamorous and upbeat team presentation in Brescia, Italy on Thursday night.
The presentation was held in the spectacular Palazzo della Loggia in the centre of Brescia, where the 2013 Giro d'Italia will end in May.
Team leader Joaquim Rodriguez finished second in this year's Giro d'Italia behind Ryder Hesjedal but the UCI's decision to refuse Katusha a WorldTour licence for ethical reasons means the team does not know if it will ride next year's Giro d'Italia or any other WorldTour race in 2013.
The UCI's unexpected decision has rocked the team and angered team owner Igor Makarov. He had been expected to attend the presentation but opted to stay in Moscow and so avoided questions about the Katusha team's ethics and the riders linked to Dr Michele Ferrari and the Padova police investigation.
New team manager Viacheslav Ekimov was forced to front the presentation and reminded everyone that the Katusha team is just part of the Russian Global Cycling Project designed to promote cycling in Russia thanks to massive funding from Makarov and leading Russian companies such as Gazprom, Itera, Rosneft and Russian Technologies. Canyon is again bike sponsor.
Two of Russian's most popular female sports presenters introduced the riders in Russian, starting with the shy Russian neo-pros and ending with team leaders Denis Menchov and Joaquim Rodriguez. Rock music accompanied each rider as they walked on stage wearing the slightly redesigned Katusha race kit that has more red white and blue colours to represent the Russian flag.
The team's roster is largely unchanged. Oscar Freire has retired, while new names include Under 23 world time trial champion Anton Vorobyev..
The backbone of the team includes experienced Russian and European riders including Xavier Florencio, Vladimir Gusev, Mikhail Ignatyev, Alexander Kristoff, Alberto Losada, Daniel Moreno Luca Paolini and Angelo Vicioso.
Alexandre Kolobnev got one of the loudest cheers from the Katusha guest and smiled from the stage, seemingly totally unperturbed by the team's problems and the ongoing investigation into allegations that he sold the 2011 Liege-Bastogne-Liege to Alexandre Vinokourov.
Ekimov banged the drum with a patriotic speech."Katusha is ready to start its fifth season after four contradicting years," he said. "We've achieved 97 victories an 197 podium places so far. We hope to do as well in 2013 and represent the Global Russian Cycling Project. We want to show that Russia is a big country and that we will direct our efforts to strengthen cycling in Russia."
"Our season has already started. We've started the race to defend our interests, to defend our rights. Were here to show we're united and that when we're united nobody can beat us. Our common goal is that we obtain everything we have the right to obtain."
The presentation ended with the riders posing for a team photograph, while the patriotic Katusha song played loud in the room.