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Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) leads Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil)
Russian squad confirms its interest as transfer talk begins
Björn Leukemans will be in a strong position when he re-negotiates his contract with Vacansoleil next week, with ProTour squad Katusha reportedly interested in signing the Belgian rider.
Leukemans indicated on Sunday that he had been approached by a "top rider" from another team interested in recruiting him, though, he declined to reveal the identity of that rider or their team. However, comments made by Katusha sports director Jef Braeckevelt on Wednesday indicate that the Russian squad could be the possible destination for the 32-year-old.
"[He's been] top-ten in all of the Flemish Classics and made a big progression. Leukemans is the revelation of the spring," Braeckevelt told Het Laatste Nieuws. "Our Katusha team manager [Andrei] Tchmil asked me to make enquiries with Leukemans' manager. I will do this soon."
Leukemans will sit down next week with his current team, Vacansoleil, to review the conditions of his current contract, which is due to expire at the end of 2011. However, Katusha has already demonstrated its willingness to sign riders from mid-contract terms with other teams. Alexandr Kolobnev joined Katusha this year after he was released from the final season of his deal with Saxo Bank.
Katusha have emerged as one of the squads most active in the transfer merry-go-round that begins its traditional spin after the Classics season. Under International Cycling Union (UCI) regulations, teams are required to maintain confidentiality about potential transfers until September 1st, but there have already been strong signs that negotiations for the 2011 season have commenced.
Het Nieuwsblad reported on Thursday that Katusha has also expressed interest in signing Frederik Willems from Liquigas-Doimo, with the Belgian also being courted by Omega Pharma-Lotto. And Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere told Cyclingnews this week that he will begin the hunt for new recruits after the Giro d'Italia.
Despite Katusha's interest in Leukemans, Vacansoleil manager Hilaire Van der Schueren is confident they can retain the services of their late-blooming Classics star.
"I think Leukemans will close his career with us," said Van der Schueren, according to Sporza. "Keeping him on the team is our intention. He also has a contract for next year and there is no release clause in it. We will sit down together soon to break open and improve his contract."