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An ecstatic Anton Vorobyev (Russian Federation) celebrates his U23 time trial world title on the podium.
Under-23 TT champion to ride for Katusha in 2013
When newly-crowned under-23 time trial world champion Anton Vorobyev (Russia) was asked if he would turn professional next season at his post-race press conference, a voice answered for him from the back of the room.
"Yes, he will be," chimed Katusha manager Hans-Michael Holczer, as Vorobyev was shyly explaining that he had been a trainee with the team this season and hoped to earn a permanent spot in 2013.
Holczer later confirmed to reporters that Vorobyev – who has raced for the Itera-Katusha feeder team for the past three seasons – has already agreed a two-year deal with the WorldTour outfit. Indeed, he had already considered promoting Vorobyev ahead of the 2012 campaign, but ultimately decided to hold fire for another year.
"In the early season, we made the decision not to take him in the ProTeam but to keep him in the Continental team and give him help with the technical side with our equipment manager Michael Rich and on the coaching side with Sebastian Weber," Holczer said. "That meant that he stayed with Nikolay Morozov in the Continental team and then came with us as a stagiaire at the Tour of Denmark.
"We gave him the security of knowing that he would already have a contract with a big team in 2013 no matter what his results were this year. That took the pressure off and allowed him to concentrate, and maybe this win is the result of that."
In spite of his position on the lower rungs of the Russian Cycling Project ladder, Vorobyev's potential meant that he had access to some of the same perks as the men at the very top of the hierarchy.
"We invited him to our first training camp in Majorca in January and after [Joaquim] Rodriguez and [Denis] Menchov, he was the third rider to get one of our new time trial bikes. So we knew about his abilities already," said Holczer, formerly manager of the ill-fated Gerolsteiner team.
Even so, Holczer began to have his doubts after Vorobyev could only manage fourth in the time trial at the European championships in August, 38 seconds down on Rasmus Quaade, a repeat of his showing at the under-23 Worlds last season.
"I was a little disappointed by the European championships, but he came directly from altitude training and he was not really prepared," Holczer said by way of explanation. "But he went back to altitude afterwards and then he went to the Tour of Denmark, and it seems everything worked."
When Vorobyev came back down from the mountain, he was a man transformed, and he delivered a dominant performance in Monday's race, putting 44 seconds into favourite Rohan Dennis (Australia) over the 36km-long course. "What I didn't expect was that his win was almost 50 seconds. It was unbelievable," said Holczer.
Former Highroad trainer Sebastian Weber, who currently works for the Katusha WorldTour team, was in the team car behind Vorobyev on Monday. "Like yesterday in the team time trial and with Purito Rodriguez in the Vuelta, Sebastian Weber was in the back of the car with Google Earth, giving all the information and trying to steer him a little bit so that the Cauberg in the end wouldn't be a disaster for him," Holczer said.
As it turned out, Vorobyev coped better with the climb than any of his rivals, although his capacities in the high mountains remain an unknown. "I don't think he's a real man for the high mountains but he could be like Tony Martin," Holczer said. "I remember driving behind him and the impression was that he was sitting on the bike like Tony Martin."