Weeks ago the UCI announced four teams were competing for final three places in the UCI World Tour and the lottery winners are FDJ, Lotto-Belisol and Argos-Shimano and Saxo Bank all stay in.
This arithmetic only works thanks to the sensational news that Katusha have been ejected and are left hoping to become a Pro Continental team for 2013.
Katusha look to be the big loser but it’s the system itself that takes a hit too. Plus on a secondary level smaller teams like Cofidis, Vini Fantini, MTN-Qhubeka or NetApp-Endura will find their chances of doing the big races shrink.
First a quick recap of each of the teams included in the World Tour, meaning they get an automatic invitation to the top races like the Tour de France, Giro, Vuelta and the top one day classics:
- Lotto-Belisol lacked points but scraped through. It would have been bizarre if they were excluded given André Greipel won more races this year than anyone else and Jurgen Van den Broeck finished fourth in the Tour de France. But this shows how the team is reliant on two riders and if Van den Broeck scored big in July he didn’t “do a Wiggins” and scoop points all season
- FDJ were fighting for a spot after a lean year. For me a they’re a team you don’t evaluate on paper or by spreadsheet but via the emotions they generate, the smiles they make and the volume of Marc Madiot’s voice. But these subjective criteria don’t count and the team’s lack of wins and high stage race placings meant it was struggling for a place
- Argos-Shimano were a strong pick thanks to their sprinters but only just made the cut as the roster is strong on sprinters but less so when it comes to stage race specialists but the team are a likeable bunch with forward-thinking management
- Saxo Bank were expected to be excluded but stay thanks to the exclusion of Katusha, and only get a
onetwo year licence
If anything today’s story is not one of those teams awarded a licence but the one excluded. In a press statement the UCI say the following:
The request from the team Katusha for registration in first division has been rejected. In accordance with UCI regulations, this team’s application has been forwarded to the UCI administration, so that the latter may assess the possibility of registering this team as a UCI Professional Continental Team.
There is no more explanation on the matter. Which is surprising as Katusha are a big budget team with no less than Joaquim Rodriguez, the world number one on the team. It makes a mockery of the system to see the top rider in the second division and it’s bizarre to learn this just 20 days away from 2013. Note too that team boss and Kremlin-insider Igor Makarov sits on the UCI’s management committee too.
Hopefully we’ll soon learn what has happened to Katusha and let’s hope it is administrative or financial rather than something even more scandalous. If it was related to race-fixing and Kolobnev then Astana would be in trouble too and if it was something like, say, a giant doping case, then the UCI would not suggest it could apply for Pro Conti status.
Katusha say they have no idea why they’ve missed out on the WorldTour
— Daniel Benson (@dnlbenson) December 10, 2012
That’s a tweet from the editor of cyclingnews.com to say even the team doesn’t know what has happened but communications can be fraught between the top executives and team PR staff who have been kept in the dark over things in the past year.
For me the biggest losers are those not even named today. The system itself takes a big hit with a major team being ejected, another reason to worry sponsors away from the sport: why invest in a team when you could find your licence evaporates? And which other sport would have the number one ranked rider in the second division? Or the second best team on the rankings ejected from the top tier?
Also spare a thought for the stronger teams at UCI Pro Continental level, those who could reasonably expect an invitation to ride the big races, particularly the Giro and Vuelta. So let’s think Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun, Europcar, NetApp-Endura, MTN-Qhubeka, Vini Fantini (the new name for fluo yellow Farnese), Caja Rural or Colombia. Why? Because we seem to have a situation where the World Tour races will give automatic invites to 18 teams… plus Katusha (if it exists in 2013). Hardly a wild choice.
Finally note Garmin-Sharp and the ex-Rabobank team both get two year licences. The new identity of the Dutch team will be revealed later this week although whether they announce sponsors appears less certain for now.
FDJ, Lotto-Belisol and Saxo-Tinkoff stay whilst Argos-Shimano climbs up. I’m happy with this as they’re all doing good things but the onus is on all them to deliver in 2013. After a weak year in terms of cold points their place for 2014 is highly dependent on results next season.
The exclusion of Katusha is a big deal, you don’t blank Igor Makarov that easily and for now nobody knows any more other than such a big team is now supposed to apply in a hurry for a second division licence if it’s still interested. And just how do we explain a sport where the world’s number one ranked rider sits in the second division. Could we imagine Lionel Messi playing Girona instead of FC Barcelona?