Katusha's future looks uncertain as rider contract extensions put on hold

The future of Katusha-Alpecin has once again come into focus, with general manager Jose Azevedo confirming to Cyclingnews that he is currently unable to offer riders contract extensions for next year.

The team’s future already looked shaky, with shampoo brand Alpecin set to depart as secondary sponsor when their contract with the team expires at the end of the year. At the weekend, Italian publication Tuttobici wrote that bike supplier Canyon would also leave the team at the end of the year, with the German brand and Alpecin choosing to focus their complete attention on sensation Mathieu van der Poel, as they look to build a road team around the Dutch rider in the future.

Azevedo went on the record to confirm that he was no closer to re-signing Katusha-Alpecin’s current Grand Tour leader, Ilun Zakarin, after initial contract discussions were put on hold. The Russian was linked to CCC Team earlier in the year. Behind the scenes, Azevedo's team are busily trying to secure more funds in light of Alpecin’s departure in order to lessen the burden on the team owner and Russian billionare Igor Makarov.

"I don’t know if Zakarin will stay or if he’ll leave. We had talks a couple of weeks ago but at the moment there’s no decision," Azevedo told Cyclingnews at the Tour de France.

When asked if he’d like to keep the Russian, the former teammate of Lance Armstrong said: "It’s a negotiation. At the right moment we’ll have something to say. Now is not the right moment to talk."

Of greater importance is the stability of the team. Without the ability to make new signings at this point in the year, the squad will struggle to attract the big names they so desperately need after another poor season of results.

Azevedo’s hand, it seems, is completely governed my Makarov’s next move. He certainly has the finances to support the squad but Tuttobici suggests that he will only sanction a team built around youth at the start of 2020, and that therefore the squad’s budget could fall. Makarov is apparently going to inform the squad of his next move during the Tour de France’s first rest day in just a few days' time.

"Alpecin have a contract with us until the end of the year. About the future, I don’t know. I can’t tell you if they’ll stay or go. We have people in charge of that. At the right moment decisions will be made."

When asked by Cyclingnews if there would be a team next year, Azevedo said: "I can’t answer you. I don’t know if the team depends on Alpecin. We’ve had them with us the last three years but Katusha have Mr. Igor Makarov and he’s the person who makes the decision.

"At the moment, I can't tell you anything about the future. At the right time. For the moment we have 10 riders with contracts in the team. We’ve not started work on 2020. I’m not nervous. That’s just the situation at this moment. We’re more focused on the Tour de France."

This season Katusha-Alpecin have struggled for results. They have won just five races, while star sprinter Marcel Kittel had his contract annulled earlier in the year after a torrid 18 months at the squad. Nils Politt shone in the Classics, while Rick Zabel and Alex Dowsett have chipped in with wins. Zakarin won a stage at the Giro d’Italia but faded to 10th overall. The squad finished fifth on stage 2 of the Tour de France after a strong showing in the team time trial.

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.