Comment: Why did Katusha make the unprecedented move to withdraw its own rider from the Giro d’Italia?

Russian team Katusha says that official sanctions imposed on Alexey Tsatevich are simply not enough

Alexey Tsatevich’s blatant drafting of Tobias Ludvigsson provided some light comedy for those watching the otherwise serious business of the Giro d’Italia time trial in Chianti on Sunday.

Television commentators made light of Tsatevich riding closely behind the Swedish Giant-Alpecin rider in what was a blatant flouting of the race rules on drafting during time trials. It was probably bad luck for the 26-year-old Russian that a TV motorbike was following him, capturing the tow with live pictures.

Screengrabs appeared on social media during the stage, with jokes made about the riders being in a two-up time trial or team pursuit.

However, Katusha did not see the funny side of it. Not one bit.

>>> ‘Absolutely unacceptable’: Katusha pull sprinter from Giro d’Italia after time trial drafting

In a completely unprecedented move, the Russian WorldTour has withdrawn Tsatevich from the race as the official 100 Swiss Franc fine and hefty time penalty imposed by race commissaires did not go far enough in punishing the ‘unacceptable’ behaviour.

In a strongly-worded statement issued on Monday during the Giro’s second rest day, Katusha sports director Dmitry Konyshev said that his rider showed a “great lack or respect” and the incident had a “huge and negative impact on the image of cycling in general”.

It is usually the case that a team will appeal against a commissaire’s decision relating to one of its riders, but in this instance, Tsatevich’s official reprimand wasn’t deemed severe enough.

Katusha reputation has been somewhat been tarnished recently, after Luca Paolini failed a test for cocaine at the 2015 Tour de France and Eduard Vorganov tested positive for meldonium.

The UCI ruled not to suspend the team from racing – as is usually the case when two doping positive occur within 12 months – as it decided that Paolini’s ingestion of cocaine was recreational and not performance-enhancing. Vorganov, too, has had his provisional suspension lifted by the UCI as the controversial meldonium issue rumbles on.

Nevertheless, Katusha could do with some good PR and Tsatevich evidently hasn’t helped.

>>> Katusha not suspended by UCI after Commission rules conditions for ban were ‘not met’

Tsatevich’s Giro withdrawal does raise some questions, however. Surely Katusha was privy to the same television images that the rest of the world saw, giving plenty of opportunity for a sports director or following car to communicate with Tsatevich to back off?

Another aspect of the curious case is that Katusha stated that Tsatevich had “absolutely ignored the team plan for the day, provided and requested by the sports director”.

Watch: Team Sky’s Dario Cioni on Mikel Landa’s Giro time trial

No details have been given as to what orders Tsatevich failed to conduct, but you could speculate that he – along with other riders – should have been giving feedback to Katusha leader Ilnur Zakarin on how to tackle the course.

As it turned out, Zakarin had an awful time. First suffering a mechanical, then crashing, then crashing again. He required three bikes to complete the 40.5km test against the clock, sustained injuries and dropped from second overall and the most likely to inherit the race lead to 11th in the general classification.

There’s a sense that Katusha are not happy with how the entire time trial went, and will now be looking ahead to the rest of the race. Albeit with eight riders instead of nine.

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