Teams that are supposed to reflect glory upon their home countries can struggle. Astana quickly got to the point where Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme said “they cannot be trusted“. Several changes of management later and today we see the team still overshadowed by scandal thanks to Contador’s ongoing. Kazakhstan suffers from an image problem, not merely Borat jokes, but serious allegations of cronyism and corruption. The cycling team doesn’t exactly boost the nation’s image.
Russia is another country relying on sporting glory in order to project images of dynamism and success. The Katusha team is a project designed to promote Russian cycling and supported by Russian business and the state itself. Only the idea hasn’t gone too well. There haven’t been many wins despite a big budget and the image of the team that is at best a bit confused.
|A cheap little man
Now the team has apparently signed Danilo Di Luca, the disgraced rider who was caught for CERA during the 2009 Giro d’Italia. The Italian was also talking with Astana.
Now, as the rules state, he’s served his time and can come back. It took a lot of time and even a priest for him to admit his guilt but so I am not overjoyed but let’s apply the rules. The twist is that “The Killer” apparently riding for free, only collecting winnings from race victories. This raises a few questions:
- UCI rules stipulate a minimum wage is compulsory. As a World Tour team, Katusha is obliged to pay the going rate. Are the rules being waived?
- Does Katusha not have enough money? Robbie McEwen left the team and this should have freed up some money so why can’t they pay the going wage?
- It’s ok to hire a rider after a ban but is a 34 year old rider really worth the effort? Does the team realise that signing a disgraced rider doesn’t help its image. Did the team consider any promising U-23s?
- Does Katusha have room? The squad was at the limit of 30 riders prior to the Di Luca deal. Has a rider been bumped aside in order to make room for him? In particular, what has happened to Alexander Botcharov and Artem Ovechkin, both have been crossed off the team but have they agreed to retire?
- Taking a disgraced rider on for free sets a terrible precedent. What happens the next time a rider tries to return after a ban? Teams are already in a strong bargaining position but the risk is that riders who serve their ban return and are asked to ride for free. You might say “karma” but the rules need to be clear here as more innocent riders could get done over.
- No pay but winnings is an incentive to return to old ways. A banned rider often needs time to come back, see how it took Basso time to land his first win. This deal suggests Katusha is not committed to Di Luca, that there’s almost a throwaway agreement here.
- Does Di Luca have a private sponsor? Andrey Kashechkin signed with Lampre thanks to a personal sponsor paying his wages. Is there anything similar at work here to enable Katusha to say “we’re not really paying him”?
Overall, plenty of questions but I’ll be surprised if we get many answers. As you might be able to tell, I think this comeback looks very wrong. It’s bad enough seeing an ambitious team resorting to signing an ageing rider who needed CERA to perform, but he’s allowed back.
Yet it’s the strange “no salary” deal that seems odd. A big team like this ought to be mindful of its image, laying down big plans to win races and promote the motherland. Signing Di Luca for free smells like a quick fix.