Updated: Katusha rejects reasons behind UCI licence decision but reports differ on what those reasons were
Russian team vows to continue legal battle to get its UCI WorldTour licence reinstated after receiving Licence Commission's reasoned decision
Katusha has confirmed receipt of the UCI’s reasoned decision as to why the governing body’s Licence Commission refused to grant it a UCI WorldTour licence for 2013 earlier this month, a decision that shocked the cycling world, and says it will continue its fight to regain its place through the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However there is some divergence between the team and the UCI on what the actual reasons for the refusal are according to the Italian newspaper Gazetto dello Sport.
The Russian team insists there is nothing in the document that goes beyond what was discussed at a meeting with the Licence Commission on 22 November, when it has previously claimed it was verbally told by a representative of the UCI’s auditors, Ernst & Young, that its application was in order in terms of the financial criteria it was required to fulfill, which has been stated as the reason for refusal.
The report in today's print edition of the Gazetta dello Sport however says that the UCI turned down the Russian team's WorldTour licence application on ethical rather than financial grounds. According to the Italian report the UCI cited the 2009 bans for EPO use handed out to Katusha riders Toni Colom and Christian Pfannberger, the failed drugs test by Denis Galimzyanov in March of this year, and the saga of Alexander Kolobnev's failed drugs test at last year's Tour de France for which the Russian cycling federation handed out a fine rather than a ban. There was also the matter of the alleged €150,000 bribe alleged to have been accepted by Kolobnev not to contest the sprint too hard in the 2010 edition of Liege Bastogne Liege.
According to the Italian report the UCI was also concerned about the number of Katusha riders supposedly implicated in the ongoing Padua investigation. Four prominent riders on the team are understood to be impliacted - all Russian. Furthermore the UCI were reported to be unhappy with the management of the team - the current management team is led by Viacheslav Ekimov a man who is tainted in the eyes of many by his long association with Lance Armstrong and the USPS team. Up until October of this year Hans-Michael Holczer had been in charge of the team his previous management stints included being in charge of the Gerolsteiner - team - which he helped to found. Gerolsteiner folded in 2008 when the title sponsor tired pulled out after Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl tested positive for CERA EPO.
In its statement released yesterday, Katusha pointed out that it has taken nine days for the UCI to communicate to it the full reasons behind the licence commission’s full decision, which has reached it less than five weeks before the 2013 season is due to start with the Tour Down Under on 20 January.
“Nine days after the decision of the UCI License Commission concerning the refusal of 2013 professional license prolongation, the Russian World Tour team Katusha has received a document containing the reasons of the refusal,” said the team’s statement.
“All the positions mentioned in this document were considered during held on thee 22nd of November 2012 UCI License Commission preliminary hearing. All the information provided by Katusha by its opinion is complete and corresponds the requirements of the UCI License Commission.
“After receiving the above-mentioned document the Russian team Katusha confirms its determination to defend its rights using all civilized ways in order to receive the World Tour license, including the already made appeal to Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS),” it added.
As things currently stand, Katusha does not even know whether it will be awarded a second division UCI Professional Continental licence for next year, an extraordinary state of affairs given that it finished the 2012 season in second place in the UCI WorldTour team ranking and, in Joaquim Rodriguez, has the man who topped the individual standings.
The exact aspect of the UCI’s licensing criteria that the team has failed to satisfy whether ethical or financial has not yet been made public, but while attempts are made to resolve the situation, agents of Rodriguez and other riders are certain to be working behind the scenes to try and line up alternative teams for the forthcoming season while the uncertainty continues.
While the ethical case against Katusha would appear to be a strong one critics of the UCI may well ask why the Russian team was singled out when there are other teams who would surely also have difficulty in meeting any rigourously applied ethical criteria as part of the licensing process. One such team, it could be argued, is Saxo Bank-Tinkoff the team which ironically would seem to have been spared at Katusha's expense.
The team is being backed in its fight against the UCI by the Russian cycling federation whose president, energy billionaire Igor Makarov, also happens to be the owner of Katusha. Mr Makarov also sits on the management committee of the UCI.