Katusha team aims to sign potential Grand Tour winners; big drive for Russian cycling
By Shane Stokes
Russian cycling took a huge leap forward on Tuesday when, at a press conference in Pau, France, Oleg Tinkoff announced that his Tinkoff Credit Systems squad would evolve into a far bigger team in 2009. Renamed Katusha, the budget for the squad will be in excess of €15 millon per annum, comprising over half of the €30 million pledged to the new Russian Global Cycling Project foundation.
Although General Manager Stefano Feltrin declined to name the big riders that will compete for the team, he confirmed that they are going after some of the top names in the sport. "We have been talking to many riders, some of whom are Tour de France contenders," he said. "Negotiations are ongoing and nothing will be announced until after the UCI's deadline of September 1st."
Gert Steegmans and Filippo Pozzato are two who have been heavily linked to the squad. More recently, Silence Lotto team-mates Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen have been tipped as being on the wish-list of the team.
"Basically, our position is that we have been talking to probably all the managers, most of the riders, almost everybody," he stated. "Of course we have signed a few new riders. I can tell you that the core of the existing Tinkoff team, people like [Pavel] Brutt and [Mikhail] Ignatiev will be in the team next year. We have already signed contracts with them, and also with some very important international riders.
"There has been some speculation, some riders confirmed," he added. "But we will abide by the rules that teams won't announce this before September 1, so I will leave it to journalists to come up with the speculation. I will not confirm, I will not deny. You can imagine which riders are available, which riders we took."
The Russian Global Cycling Project foundation will itself be funded by its main sponsors Gazprom, Itera and Rostechnologii, and will have the main aim of supporting the development of the sport of cycling in Russia. Benefiting the sport from the grassroots level right up to the Katusha team, the €30 million budget will also fund a social project dedicated to schools and young athletes, all activities of the Russian Cycling Federation and the new five day Tour of Sochi due to be held next May.
Former top professional Andrei Tchmil will act as the general director and coordinator of the foundation.
The team had been heavily tipped to take out a ProTour licence in 2009, this information being verified on Monday by a high-level official within the UCI. However the team itself played this down on Tuesday, saying that no decision had been taken as yet. The series then collapsed later that day, with all of the current ProTour teams indicating that they would not seek to renew their licences.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Katusha means business. "Of course we are interested in riders like Evans, his contract is going to expire," said Feltrin. "He, [Carlos] Sastre, [Fabian] Cancellara…they are available on the market and we have the budget, so we are interested.
"But one thing I want to make clear is that we are not overpaying anybody, we are very savvy with the money," he added. "I have been managing a team with a very low budget compares to other teams, so I know the value of it."
Cyclingnews will have a full feature on the new-look team shortly.