Zakarin pulled from flight to Rio Olympics 'at last minute'

Russia's team pursuit squad in turmoil as three riders implicated in McLaren report

Ilnur Zakarin will not ride at the Olympic Games in Rio despite holding out hopes of competing as an independent athlete, his coach has confirmed. The Russian had been set to travel out to Rio this week but was pulled from the flight ‘at the last minute' and will now head to Spain for the Clasica San Sebastian.

“I got a call last night from Moscow,” Zakarin’s coach, Gumar Zakarievich told “Ilnur was removed from the plane at the last minute before it went to Brazil. What can I say? Life does not end there. The Olympics, in his sporting career, can still happen. The most important thing is that he does not stand still, and continues developing his skills as a rider."

Will he? Won’t he? That has been the story of Zakarin’s Olympic dream since the publishing of the McLaren Report last week. In the wake of the report, the IOC made the decision to ban the Russian Olympic Committee from bringing any athletes that had received a suspension for doping. However, it would be up to individual governing bodies to choose whether or not to follow the ruling. Zakarin’s 2009 ban for methandienone included him in that category.

At the Tour de France’s final stage in Paris, Zakarin’s Katusha team told Cyclingnews that he would attempt to enter as an independent athlete, an option that is open to athletes whose countries have received bans. Even yesterday, he and his coach had been sure that Zakarin would be able to go to Brazil, but that was eventually dashed by the UCI’s decision follow the IOC ruling.

As well as Zakarin, 2012 bronze medallist Olga Zabelinskaya is also unable to compete in Rio. The UCI did not specifically name any names in their press release on Thursday and only referred to three riders who had served doping bans and three who were under investigation for doping infractions.

After Zakarin and Zabelinskaya, Sergey Shilov is third Russian rider who was ruled out of Rio due to his 2009 suspension for the use of the drug carphedon. Shilov was due to take part in the team pursuit competition at the Olympics. Two of his pursuit teammates, Kirill Sveshnikov and Dmitry Sokolov, have also been implicated in the scandal, as two of the three under investigation, according to a letter seen by the Russian news agency. Their coach, Alexander Kuznetsov, vented his anger and questioned the legality of the ban in a letter to Thomas Bach, head of the IOC.

"The shock from the information received overnight on July 29 was tremendous," the letter published on said. "According to it, Sokolov and Sveshnikov (which basically means the entire cycle racing team) have been barred from the Rio Olympic Games, since their names are mentioned in Mr McLaren’s report."

Gazprom-Rusvelo rider Viktor Manakov is the only member of the team pursuit squad who has not been pulled from the Russian line-up. The Olympic Games will open in Rio de Janeiro next Friday, August 5.

The Russian team can still compete in the team pursuit, as the quotas for each event are awarded by country, not to individual athletes. However, they would have to pull in other already accredited riders from other cycling events.

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