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Gazprom-RusVelo: Our team could be a messenger of peace

DUBAI UNITED ARAB EMIRATES FEBRUARY 25 Silhouette of Pavel Kochetkov of Russia Michael Kukrle of Czech Republic Matteo Malucelli of Italy Ivan Rovny of Russia Dmitrii Strakhov of Russia Mathias Vacek of Czech Republic and Team Gazprom Rusvelo prior to the 4th UAE Tour 2022 Stage 6 a 180km stage from Expo 2020 Dubai to Expo 2020 Dubai UAETour WorldTour on February 25 2022 in Dubai United Arab Emirates Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Silhouettes of the Gazprom-RusVelo team as they line up at the UAE Tour in 2022, the last race the team took part in before the UCI ban (Image credit: Tim de WaeleGetty Images)

Gazprom-RusVelo were planning to line up at Trofeo Laigueglia with unbranded jerseys before a UCI decision to suspend all Russian and Belarusian teams from competition, but the squad is still trying to work toward a return to the peloton following the loss of its UCI status.

The UCI's response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came after a recommendation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has led to a ban of teams, and, in some cases athletes, from competition across a wide range of sports. 

The UCI is still allowing Russian and Belarusian riders to compete if they are registered in foreign teams, but all riders of any nationality from teams registered in Russia or Belarus are unable to compete.

ProTeam Gazprom-RusVelo, sponsored by the Russian majority state-owned energy group, was taken out of Wednesday's Trofeo Laigueglia on the eve of the race with the team having already tried to take measures to remove names and logos from its jerseys and equipment.

"We had already prepared our team cars to be neutral, white. Like the jerseys, also white, to bring a message of peace to the Trofeo Laigueglia,” Gazprom-RusVelo general manager Renat Khamidulin said in an article on Italian website Tuttobiciweb

“We were ready do our part, but then the directives of the IOC and then the UCI cut our legs off, although they didn’t take away our hope. We have sent the world governing body some of our proposals, and the thing that comforts us is that a dialogue is underway with them."

The team also had bike and wheel suppliers, French companies Look and Corima, pull their support this week but it is looking for a way in which the 21 riders on the squad from across six nations can continue to compete, including racing with a neutral jersey, potentially from another country.

“Cycling, our team could be a messenger of peace,” Khamidulin said in the Tuttobiciweb article. “We don't want war, we want peace."

The team had been on the start list of the the Laigueglia Trophy with three Italian riders – Giovanni Carboni, Nicola Conci and Alessandro Fedeli – recent UAE Tour stage stage winner Mathias Vacek of the Czech Republic and his compatriot Michael Kukrle along with Russian riders Sergei Chernetski and Nikolay Cherkasov.

The decision to ban the team led Italian rider Fedeli, who signed for Gazprom-RusVelo after the demise of his former Delko team, facing up to the prospect that he would have little opportunity to pin a number on anytime soon, which he told Bici.pro meant “my dreams are shattered”. 

"I would like to know at this point why the Russian riders of the German or British teams can continue to race. It is a measure that feeds hatred, in an environment that is used to mixing nationalities," Fedeli said.

"In our team there are Italians, Russians, guys from the Czech Republic like [Marcin] Vacek who won in UAE and also from Costa Rica. The headquarters are in Italy, the team cars have Italian plates and the money comes from Germany."

Fideli said in the Bici.pro article that he was on the side of his team, and couldn't say anything about the war. A number of riders across the peloton have, however, voiced sympathy for the people of Ukraine. That includes Russian Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) has firmly stated his opposition to the war on social media, adding a request that individual Russians not be the target of hate just because of their origin. 

At the start of the Italian race the Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli team also took the stage to sign on all wearing the Ukraine national champion jersey in support of their young teammate Andrii Ponomar.

When racing got underway, Jan Polanc of UAE Team Emirates won the Trofeo Laigueglia after catching a leading trio and then jumping away to win alone, while his two teammates Juan Ayuso and Alessandro Covi filled out the podium.

When asked if he watched the event, even after the team's exclusion, Khamidulin told the Italian website: ”Of course yes, I love this sport. And do you know what I'm saying? If we had raced, UAE Emirates would not have occupied the entire podium."

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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.