The Katusha team has confirmed to Cyclingnews that it will be registered in Switzerland for the 2017 season as it continues to internationalise and grow out of its Russian roots.
The team is expected to have Alpecin as a title sponsor for 2017, with the German shampoo brand splitting from the 2016 Giant-Alpecin team, which has announced Sunweb as its title sponsor.
The arrival of Alpecin and Tony Martin as a team leader, with German bike brand Canyon also a key sponsor, means Katusha will significantly reduce the team’s links to Russia, even if Russian Oligarch Igor Makarov will continue to own and part-fund the team. Alpecin is expected to confirm its sponsorship near the end of the current season.
Makarov used his wealth and connections in Russia to create the Katusha team as a way to develop Russian riders. That role has now been taken by the Gazprom-Rusvelo team. Katusha is trying to fund its WorldTour status by becoming more internationally appealing.
Under UCI rules, teams can chose their nationality based on where the management company is based, or the location of a main sponsor. The Katusha team is run from a company based in Geneva, Switzerland and so is a logical choice considering the lack of interest from Russian sponsors.
Ekimov has confirmed the team will only have five Russian riders on its 2017 roster: Ilnur Zakarin, Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, Matvey Mamykin Maxim Belkov and Pavel Kochetkov.
Ekimov bemoaned the lack of sponsorship from Russia on a recent trip to Moscow, but is upbeat about the team's future after signing Martin (from Etixx-QuickStep), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Team Virtu Pro-Veloconcept), Maurits Lammertink (Roompot-Oranje Peloton), Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie–Bruxelles), José Gonçalves (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Rik Zabel (BMC) Jenthe Biermans (SEG Racing), and Robert Kišerlovski (Tinkoff).
Long-term leader Joaquim Rodriguez is set to retire at the end of the season, while Jacopo Guarnieri will move to FDJ to help Arnaud Demare in the sprints and Jurgen van den Broeck will move to LottoNL-Jumbo. Alexander Kristoff will remain as an important team leader as he targets the sprints and the spring Classics.
"We will formally be considered a Swiss team because that's were we'll be registered but everyone knows that the project was initially Russian and the word Katusha will be maintained along with the name of the new sponsor," Ekimov told local media in Moscow.
"Sadly no one was willing to invest in the team in Russia. Hopefully this situation will change over time," he added indicating that Russian companies had invested heavily in the Sochi winter Olympics and the 2018 soccer World Cup that will be held in Russia.