Two Itera-Katusha riders banned for anti-doping violations

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has announced that two young riders from the Itera-Katusha Continental team have been given one-year bans for anti-doping rule violations.

Andrey Lukonin and Ivan Lutsenko were both suspended by RUSADA after “information was provided by the Disciplinary Anti-doping Committee”. It is not clear if they tested positive for a banned substance or whether there was another kind of anti-doping rule infringement. Their ban officially began on August 3,  which was probably the date of the first notification of the infringement.

RUSADA also announced that two Russian weightlifters and a sport dancer had been banned. The news emerged on the day the Russian Athletics Federation accepted its ban from international competition following the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent investigation into doping and bribes in Russian athletics. RUSADA is itself suspended by WADA from carrying out most of its work as it faces accusations of covering up failed drug tests for leading Russian athletes.

The UCI recently told Cyclingnews that Nikita Kamaev, the executive director of RUSADA, has suspended his involvement with the UCI Anti-Doping Commission following the wide-ranging doping scandal in Russian athletics. Kamaev has denied any wrongdoing. 

Lukonin and Lutsenko are both just 20 years old. They competed in several European stage races with Itera-Katusha during the first part of the 2015 season and both ended their seasons abruptly during the Trofeu Joaquim Agostinho stage race in July. There was no initial reaction from the Russian Cycling Federation and the two riders have yet to be listed as suspended. Former Gewiss professional Petr Ugryumov is named as the team’s sports director on the UCI website. He finished second in the 1994 Tour de France.

Embarrassment for Makarov and Katusha

The news of the two suspensions will be an embarrassment for the president of the Russian Cycling Federation, Igor Makarov, who is on the UCI’s Management Committee and is also the owner of the Katusha WorldTour team. Makarov backed the election of current UCI president Brian Cookson in 2013 and his Itera company is also a major sponsor of the European Cycling Union (UEC).

The Itera-Katusha Continental team and the Katusha WorldTour team are owned by different management companies but come under the umbrella of the so-called Russian Global Cycling Project. The project is backed by major Russian companies such as Gazprom, Rostec, and Itera, with the aim of developing Russian cycling and helping athletes compete for medals at the Olympic Games.

The Katusha WorldTour team was hit by two doping cases this summer after Luca Paolini tested positive for cocaine and Giampaolo Caruso was suspended for EPO. The fact that Caruso's case stemmed back to 2012, with his sample retrospectively tested this year, meant that Katusha escaped a one-month ban from racing.

The news of the two suspensions at Itera-Katusha will raise further questions about links between major WorldTour teams and development teams and recalls the Astana case of last winter, when the Kazakh team was hit by a series of positive tests. Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO and then it emerged that three riders from the Astana Continental team had also failed anti-doping tests.

The UCI fought hard to stop Astana obtaining a WorldTour licence for 2015 but the team – headed by Alexandre Vinokourov – managed to obtain one and hold on to it in the midst of scrutiny from the UCI's Licence Commission, along with an extensive audit and subsequent 'strict monitoring' from the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL),

Both Astana and Katusha have been awarded WorldTour licences for 2016, with Katusha set to reveal what it recently called ‘a more international image’ in 2016 as it tries to become less reliant on Makarov’s backing. Katusha is expected to unveil a new jersey and branding at a press conference during the team’s training camp in Spain on December 12.

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