By Gregor Brown
Team Katusha has responded to its WorldTour demotion with a legal case - and misleading messages. Besides filing its case with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the Russian team fired off a round of publicity emails over the weekend.
Thanks to Joaquím Rodríguez, Katusha sits second in the WorldTour rankings behind Sky for 2012. Rodríguez rode consistently throughout the year to finish number one in the individual rankings ahead of Bradley Wiggins (Sky). He won one-day classics Flèche Wallonne and the Tour of Lombardy, and placed second overall in the Giro d'Italia and third overall in the Vuelta a España.
The UCI's licence commission, however, only had 18 first division licences to award to 19 applicants. The ProTeam licence gives a team a right to race in all the big events, from Grand Tour to classics. The commission could have left out Saxo-Tinkoff or refused to promote Argos-Shimano, but last Monday it axed Katusha after four years. It has yet to announce the reasons behind its decision, which could be based on Katusha's string of doping cases.
The booting led to a round of emails from the squad, which stepped up a notch over the weekend. The only important one was that the team began a case with sport's high court, CAS.
Phonak appealed to CAS when it was left out of the first division for 2005 and won. Katusha could have simply taken the demotion in stride, as teams Europcar and Argos did last year, and agreed to race in the second division. Organisers would be happy to issue wildcard invitations to the team thanks to Rodríguez.
Supporting Katusha - Supporting Russia! Katusha said that it held a "special internet flash-mob" that received the support of five million. It explained the mob's purpose was "to draw worldwide attention to the shocking, unreasonable and discriminating actions" of the licence commission, who refused its place "without providing any reasonable explanation of its decision".
A Google web search of "Supporting Katusha - Supporting Russia!" returns only 136,000 results that mostly point to Friday's press release. In Facebook, where it has 10,104 followers, its related post only received 137 likes. In comparison, four million liked President Obama's re-election photo.
On Saturday, the Katusha sent a press release saying it "received support [from] the European Cycling Union, UCI Management Committee, a number of national cycling federations and the Russian Olympic Committee."
The statement is misleading as Katusha is represented in at least three of those bodies. Katusha CEO Igor Makarov sits on the UCI's management committee and presides over the Russian Cycling Federation and natural gas giant, Itera. Itera sponsors the European Cycling Union (UEC). In addition, former Katusha general manager, Andrei Tchmil plans to run for president of the UEC, and eventually the UCI.
The licence commission makes its decision on four criteria: sporting, financial, administrative and ethical. Katusha may have stumbled on the third - three general managers in four years - or on the fourth. The team's doping cases range from Denis Galimzyanov to Christian Pfannberger. Its newly appointed general manager, Viatcheslav Ekimov rode for many years in support of Lance Armstrong and is allegedly linked in the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) doping investigation.
UCI spokesman, Enrico Carpani gave Cycling Weekly the commission's explanation: "should come within a very short period." Once in hand, Katusha will have two weeks to appeal to CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland. The court will need to act quickly as the 2013 WorldTour begins on 22 January with the Tour Down Under in Australia.
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