While Katusha's legal team prepares to put its case to be reinstated to the UCI WorldTour before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne on Friday, the Russian outfit's road team has been getting about the business of racing at the Tour of Qatar.
Uncertainty has enshrouded Katusha ever since the UCI's surprise announcement on December 10, 2012, that the team's application for a WorldTour licence had been denied. A leaked letter from the UCI published in Gazzetta dello Sport said that the omission was for ethical reasons, while team leader Joaquim Rodriguez is already edging towards the door should the CAS appeal fail.
The team thus finds itself operating in something of a limbo: while their 2013 kit defiantly bears the UCI WorldTour insignia, Katusha are currently registered as a Pro Continental team, and have already been overlooked for wildcard invitations to the Giro d'Italia and Paris-Nice.
"I have to say the morale is quite good here right now in spite of everything," directeur sportif Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Qatar. "It's important to get off to a good start, and we're preparing the season as normal in the hope that this decision will be taken as quickly as possible. It's a difficult moment, but the boys are doing the best they can."
Katusha's ethical record is understood to be the reason for its exclusion from the WorldTour, and the team's lengthy rap sheet includes positive tests from Toni Colom, Christian Pfannberger and Denis Galimzyano, links between some of its riders and Dr. Michele Ferrari, and allegations that Igor Kolobnev sold victory at the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
However, Piva, who arrived at the team last season after HTC-Highroad folded in late 2011, claimed that, to his knowledge, Katusha had yet to be formally informed of the reasons for its demotion.
"We don't know anything beyond what came out in the UCI's official communiqué, so we don't know any more than anyone else," Piva said. "We haven't had any clearer information than that so we still don't know why they turned us down for the licence."
As the legal machinations rumble on in the background, Piva and the sports directors are charged with the task of arranging programmes for 30 riders on a rather more limited diet of events than previously imagined.
"We're fortunate right now that we've been invited to quite a lot of races so far, apart from the Tour Down Under," Piva said. "We'll be at the first Classics and at Tirreno-Adriatico before that. The only problem for now is not being invited to Paris-Nice, but we'll try to do training camps to keep the riders in condition and we just hope that the decision arrives soon."
Though Joaquim Rodriguez has already raced at the Tour de San Luis and Trofeo Mallorca in Katusha colours, and is also due to compete at the Tour of Oman, he is already preparing the ground for his departure if the CAS appeal fails. The bigger question, of course, is whether the Katusha team itself will continue if it fails to obtain WorldTour status through the courts.
"Up to now, we've had the support of our sponsors and they support the team 100% even if we don't get the licence," Piva said. "We're convinced that we're in the right but if we don't have a licence then that's always the risk."
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