Luca Paolini has expressed his relief at returning to the highest level of the sport with Katusha. The Italian last rode at ProTour level in 2007 with Liquigas, where he was implicated in the Operazione Athena doping investigation. He spent the past three seasons at Acqua&Sapone, and was part of Paolo Bettini's Italian team at the 2010 world championships in Geelong.
"It was very important for me to get back into a ProTeam," Paolini told Cyclingnews. "It means that I can again ride the races that I like, such as the Tour of Flanders,Paris-Roubaix and Amstel. It means a lot to me to do those races."
Paolini made his debut in his new colours in Sunday's Tour of Qatar prologue. The flat roads and high winds that characterise the country mean that the race has developed into an important pre-Classics testing ground over the course of its ten-year history, and Paolini felt that even the opening 2.5km time trial served a dry run of sorts for April.
"It was a difficult course because you had to handle the bike well," he said. "And then all those little cobbles and the wind made it even harder to control things. It was a strange kind of test as it was so short and there was so much wind. Plus on your first day back racing, you need to get accustomed to the effort again."
While Paolini and his Katusha teammates will be looking to grab an early win in Qatar, his main objective from the race will be to build form for the Classics.
"Above all I want to see where I am in my preparation in regard to other riders," he said. "Here there are a lot of very strong riders that you can compare yourself against, it's a good testing ground. Of course I'd also like to help a teammate win a stage or maybe have a go myself."