Links between a Russian cyclist and the country’s armed forces have been uncovered by the RadioCycling podcast, leading to question marks around the rider’s future participation in events on the UCI calendar.
Maria 'Masha' Novolodskaia is a 23-year-old rider for the British Women’s Continental team Lifeplus-Wahoo, the Russian having joined the outfit in the winter after a year racing with UAE-Team ADQ of the Women’s WorldTour.
In 2021 she won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the Madison, and on the road this spring competed in the biggest one-day Classics, including at the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
An investigation by RadioCycling has revealed that since 2020 Novolodskaia has been partly-funded by the Central Army Sports Club, a highly successful multi-sport organisation whose official title is the Federal Institution of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation CSKA.
Two members of the club’s board are current ministers of the country’s Ministry of Defence, while President Putin congratulated the club on their 100 year anniversary on April 29. One of the club’s main backers, meanwhile, is Rostec, a state-owned company that supplies weapons to the country’s army, including in the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Moreover, Novolodskaia is listed on the CSKA’s website as an ensign - a low commissioner officer - while RadioCycling reported that there “are countless articles” on the Russian internet describing Novolodskaia as an “Army cyclist”.
Since the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian and Belarusian athletes have only been able to compete in cycling races for their trade teams, although recent amendments by the UCI, cycling’s governing body, means that they can now race World and European Championships if they pass the criteria to be registered as ‘neutral athletes’.
On May 3, the UCI updated its regulations for Russian and Belarusian athletes, with one line reading: “Riders… who are or have been contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military, including any affiliated entities… cannot participate in events on the UCI International calendar.”
The news came as a shock to the team’s general manager Tom Varney, who informed the podcast that they have begun the process of registering Novolodskaia as a neutral athlete.
Novolodskaia told the team that she will seek to withdraw her membership from the CSKA when she returns home to Russia later in May, while she also told them that she is opposed to the war in Ukraine, and her ensign title is merely honorary.
“We’ve done our due diligence and we’ve met all of the UCI rules to date and we will continue to do that within the new rules,” Varney told the podcast. “We believe Masha has also done that.
“We’re very sensitive to the whole situation. We can only play within those rules. I believe when I speak with her she doesn’t support the war and I believe she’s probably been ill-advised to some extent when she got to Olympic fame. Any nation is proud of their Olympians.
"There are probably some links there that haven’t done her any personal justice, but it also looks like if she is going to continue racing for us and in any UCI race, those links probably need to be stopped.”
It is understood that Novolodskaia may be pulled from the upcoming Itzulia Basque Country while Lifeplus-Wahoo work to solve the matter, with questions likely to be asked of Novolodskaia’s historical and current links to the Russian state.
Reports in the Russian media have previously stated that two members of Novolodskaia’s family have fought in the Russian military, and how in 2019 the family were awarded the title of ‘family of the year’ as part of a ceremony held at the Kremlin in an all-Russian competition.
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