Russian Grand Tour specialist Ilnur Zakarin has signed a two-year deal with CCC Team. The 29-year-old has spent his entire WorldTour career with Katusha but the move to CCC Team has been on the cards for several months.
Zakarin has been looking for a fresh start for some time and with Katusha unable to sign riders beyond this year due to their uncertain future, CCC Team have stepped in to take the former Vuelta a Espana podium finisher. The news of Zakarin’s arrival comes on the back of Matteo Trentin’s switch from Mitchelton-Scott to the Polish team.
“This new contract with CCC Team is a new chapter in my life. Regardless of the fact that this season has been very intense, I am very excited and looking forward to the next one,” Zakarin said in a statement released by his team for 2020.
“I really want to prove myself and show what I can do. Moreover, I am really happy that CCC Team’s 2020 roster will have strong climbers and we will try to get the highest possible results together. I don't know what I can say more except I am looking forward to the final part of the season and then joining CCC Team and starting the new season together. It’s exciting to start a new chapter in my career and I think CCC Team will be a great fit for me as a rider.”
Zakarin has won stages in both the Tour de France (2016) and the Giro d’Italia (2015 and 2019) but his best GC result came at the 2017 Vuelta, when he finished third behind Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali. Since then he has failed to mount a GC challenge over three weeks. He was 10th in the Giro d’Italia this year and won a stage from a break into Ceresole Reale but was off the pace at the Tour de France, eventually finishing 51st in Paris.
Despite the low-key result Zakarin had nothing but praise for Katusha and his time on the squad.
“Five years ago, I got my first professional contract in the world of cycling. I want to thank Viatcheslav Ekimov for giving me a chance to prove myself as a part of Team Katusha Alpecin. The beginning was tough but very important for me as a rider. I learned a lot from Purito, Spilak, Moreno, and Paolini. Later I got my own chances and I did my best to not let the team down. I really want to thank Igor Makarov for all that he is doing for cycling, in general, and for me. When I started thinking about another contract, he was the first person with whom I discussed my idea. I cannot say how much I want to thank all the staff, each member and rider from Katusha, who was a part of my life for those years. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.”
The signing of Zakarin represents CCC Team’s first real move into the GC market. After CCC stepped in last July, following BMC Racing’s demise, the transfer market was virtually over. Team manager Jim Ochowicz built the 2019 team around Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and now funds to improve further, they have added Zakarin to their collective.
“We are delighted to sign Ilnur Zakarin to CCC Team for the coming seasons. Ilnur will provide us with a solid option for the General Classification at stage races and Grand Tours and, as we saw at this year’s Giro d’Italia, Ilnur is capable of making the most of an opportunity to win a stage. Having placed in the top ten at all three Grand Tours, including a podium place at the 2017 Vuelta a España, Ilnur brings a wealth of experience to the team and will be instrumental in the team’s General Classification ambitions,” Ochowicz said.
“Our title sponsor, CCC, has a large presence in Russia so it is exciting for the team and for CCC to sign a Russian rider of Ilnur’s caliber. Our 2020 roster is starting to take shape and with the addition of Ilnur, and some riders still yet to be announced, we are really strengthening the team’s capacity to perform in the mountains.”
by Daniel Benson
Had Ochowicz had the funds, and had Zakarin been available last year, this transfer could have happened a season earlier. However, Ochowicz only managed to rescue BMC Racing during last year’s Tour de France, by which point the majority of the Grand Tour riders were already off the market.
The American team boss decided to focus the majority of his attention on building a squad around Greg Van Avermaet and the Classics. However, despite not signing a potential GC rider, he laid the groundwork for a small GC core by signing Simon Geschke, Patrick Bevin and Serge Pauwels, who will all offer a level of protection for Zakarin in the medium mountains. Laurens ten Dam was also brought in for 2019 but he is set to hang up his wheels at the end of the campaign.
The signing of Zakarin addresses obvious sponsorship needs but it also gives the CCC Team another dimension in stage races.
With the future surrounding Katusha still far from secure, and their management still unable to offer contracts for 2020 it was always clear that Zakarin would leave.
He informed the team in June of his decision. At 29 and after two years of stagnation in terms of GC results, a fresh start was certainly needed, and with a number of free spots still to fill Ochowicz can sign one or two more reinforcements to bolster the team in the mountains.