World Tour: FDJ, Lotto, Argos and Saxo In, Katusha Fired

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 one two year licence

Katusha Exclusion
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.

Russian roulette
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.

That’s a tweet from the editor of 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.

Tame wildcards
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?

59 thoughts on “World Tour: FDJ, Lotto, Argos and Saxo In, Katusha Fired”

  1. Quick re-write from the original version? 🙂

    It’s a sad decision that further highlights the lack of transparency in the sport.

    Rodriguez podiums in two grand tours, wins a monument, a semi-classic and finishes as the no.1 rider in the world in 2012 and is relegated in 2013? Something is rotten in the state of Aigle.

  2. Had not seen THAT coming. Could Rijs be the actual winner? If Saxo would have been left out, due to lack of points as Contadors point will not count, as a consequence of doping, they might not have received all the invitations.

  3. Seems UCI was in a rough spot – Katusha denied= Purito on second level team, Saxo denied = Contador on second level team.
    They must have flipped a coin?
    I can see some logic that Saxo, with its spate of quality signings, may have more potential for wins during the upcoming season than Katusha…and I can see some logic that Katusha’s appointment of Eki wasn’t very smart… but those are the only reasons, weak as they are, that I can come up with as to why Saxo over Katusha.

      • well, it’s a good point…i was assuming it was between those two but that might not be true at all.

        i would love to know where saxo was on their rankings, particularly after they signed a pile of people who will assuredly score points in upcoming season. they won’t be #20 at seasons end i’d think (i could be wrong) and maybe they take that into account for “sporting value”.

        i guess i wouldn’t be suprised at all if the UCI told me saxo was in and the debate was between RetirementShack and FDJ for the last spot….

  4. Could be that there’s a massive scandal waiting to happen with Katusha, the UCI know it’s going to break in the next year, and they don’t want them in the top tier to further tarnish the grand tours? Rodriguez’s attacks during la Vuelta were frequent and hard, just like the ones from Contador and Valverde… who have both been banned for doping.
    Three Spanish riders, one country where it’s really easy to dope.

    Pure speculation, of course. But if the UCI tries to do one thing apart from make shit loads of money, it’s to attempt to cover its back.

  5. The past 2 years we’ve constantly been hearing about the Makarov power in the UCI and that he’s the puppet master behind the scene and the cycling world is his play toy…….Where’s Makarov’s clout now, Mr INRNG?

  6. So the UCI knows something the rest of the world doesn’t? Seems to be necessary for the UCI to make a statement, or else this is going to be shady… again.

    Could be Kolobnev (doping and the L-B-L thing)? But then again, other teams should be rejected too.

    • The decision not to award a licence is appeallable by Katusha to TAS-CAS. Technically it would be quite poor form to say much more at this stage.

          • and a detailed decision will no doubt be given to Katusha. Bearing in mind they had a licence til 2015 and passed the sporting criterion comfortably, then to be referred to licensing in the first place meant the paperwork was out of whack somehow. Assuming for the moment a team you can pass the ethical criteria just by spelling the word correctly on the form then most likely that was based on deficienices somewhere deep in the paperwork.

            Lampre once upon a time were given time to correct such deficiencies. Have to wonder what is so poor in the Katusha paperwork that UCI have not only turned them down, but not given a provisional licence, and awarded the rest of the quota to saxo and argos. Meaning the only way to get a licence now is through CAS.

            Speculation inevitable, but the nature of the beast (could be confidential financial info for example) means probably unavoidable

          • Dear Inner Ring,
            As for Katusha, you often look for a cat in an empty room. KGB, Kremlin, spies…
            Trust me, cycling is no exciting for Russians. 99% of them have no clue either about this kind of sport, squabbles in the UCI or anti-doping investigations. Nobody cares indeed. They are much more preoccupied with UEFA championships or hockey WC than local competitions like Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour de Suisse or even Vuelta a Espana. And no doubt, Putin has much more important issues to think about, say Olympics 2014 or World Cup 2018. Sad but true.
            And as for Katusha’s PR staff, don’t forget about time zone difference. Moscow is in a different time zone so they finish 3-4 hours earlier. No wonder, they postpone press statements and releases. Nobody wants to overnight at the office.

      • Seriously? Their are supposed to be criteria. It would be easy for the UCI to state “Katusha did not meet criteria x, y and z and therefore are not receiving a licence.”

        Unless of course the criteria is more of a guideline. wink wink nudge nudge.

  7. Could things like this, and some of the other things to come out from the UCI since the Armstrong Case broke (and the flood of critism of the UCI) mean that the UCI are trying to sort out house a little?

    Probably too optimistic

  8. My comment in the following Cyclingnews article :

    ” So that he can maximise his ” Stupidity ” phat has irritated the Russians ! Bad enough he is being scrutinised by Cycling Tifosi , he has to take on the Russian Mafia “!
    Was it not the Russian that was expected to step up and take his Job in the next election ? ” Tideplay 1″ , is correct in the speculation that reasons are being sought to justify this strange decision .

    Note that “Katusha ” was advised that they were amongst the 15 previously awarded a spot in the Pro World ranks ! Recall that Jerome Roy of FDJ , complained recently about the problems ” UCI ” was causing , with their ” Late advise of Pro World Status “? Now Katusha has to redo Uniforms and deal with other logistics whilst they fight it out at CAS !

    Good job phat & heinous do not have to attend the Aigle Court on wednesday , after being forced by the Management Committee , to step back from their action against Paul Kimmage ?

    Makarov will be giving ” UCI ” a huge headache in the coming months , perhaps will join ” ” in creating the ” transparency ” that Cycling is currently lacking !

    • Conspiracy theory #187: Marakov’s manoeuvring into the presidential role has been nasty. “Phat & Heinous” (good work Skippy!) figure their days are numbered at UCI HQ and drop a few hand grenades into the lap for whoever takes the reins. Then they can fight it out with Marakov early in their first tenure.

  9. I wouldn’t have cared if they ejected Sky or RSNT, as long as Argos made it. In the light of all that has happened this autumn, the team and riders seem like a symbol for change to me. Open and honest riders, smart and professional management.

    • I agree. If the Katusha story risks scaring sponsors who might fear they can be booted out of the sport for unknown reasons then Argos is the counter example of how taking the right decisions with the right people brings rewards.

      • But if the UCI will not state what the wrong decisions are, everyone has to guess what is right according to Pat&Hein. I totally agree with Ponckster (follow her on twitter @Ponckster if you can read dutch) that uncertainty is the last we can have in our sport in this time.

        • That’s the point, they don’t have to guess. The identity and management of Argos and how professional they are on all levels should be a clear example if you ask me.

          On the other hand, teams should be able to figure out that an EPO positive, a TdF 2011 positive, a bought-off classic win scandal, and shady management wouldn’t do your chances any good, no matter how well you perform. (Of course, it’s still puzzling that Saxo Bank, RSNT and Astana aren’t ejected…)

  10. It appears that this decision carries the fingerprints of incompetence ! If its doping related, why are Astana, Saxo, Lampre and Movistar welcome amongst the ethical elite ?

    It would appear unlikely that money could be the answer, this is a Russian state team.

    UCI Politics could be part of the answer. Whatever the evential official reason, one would think the UCI should be capable of organizing a more open, transparent and honest system for all those concerned – Oh, wait a moment !

  11. Perhaps the UCI was worried that excluding Saxo would lead them to challenge the rule that the points of a rider returning from suspension do not count for two years. Not only would that rule being found to be illegal be embarrassing for UCI, the fight with Saxo (backed by not one but two banks) would cost UCI a lot of money.

      • Thanks. It was two weeks and great. Good to be back too.

        At the time of planning the time away I half-hoped it would coincide with the Armstrong case slated for late November but it was an interesting case to watch. Instead I’m trying to digest the Change Cycling agenda.

  12. Katusha not been selected might be linked to Ekimov´s past not revealed by him during his 6 tours with Lance, after he replaced Hans Michael Holczer.

  13. Katusha not been selected might be linked to Ekimov´s past not revealed by him during his 6 tours with Lance, after he replaced Hans Michael Holczer…!

  14. What I find the most bizarre here is artificially limiting ProTour licenses to 18. What is the point? We had only 19 teams applying for license. It wouldn’t not make any problem to cater 1+ team and on average 8 extra riders in every race. Business would benefit from it, some extra riders would get chance to ride in best races. Not mentioning bank guarantees from extra team which is pure money is UCI hands. In the beginning of ProTour we used to have 20-21 teams see: and it worked
    If you are a potential sponsor and you prepare your marketing plan that include participating in best league in cycling, you qualify and then due to unclear criteria you are eliminated from that society, you will think twice before investing in cycling, which is of course bad for the sport as it put potential sponsors off.
    I think it would be the wisest decision and would not be surprised at all if it end this way after Makrov intervenes

    • The wildcards are needed in my view so that local races can invite local riders. Take the Grand Tours, they can have a global audience, especially the Tour, but they need local riders and teams to bring the crowds to the roadsides.

    • Less interesting is who got in, that that it’s Makarov, the UCI’s most scary confederate, who’s been ditched by those very people he keeps in place (and presumably well-financed) to ensure he gets what he wants.
      Perhaps Oleg has returned the favour after Makarov took over his Tinkoff team to create Katusha to start with?
      I guess we won’t know until one of them winds up in a London back-alley full of polonium or something distinctly KGB-esque…

      (oh, and welcome back! We missed you even though you were only partly gone!)

      • The licence commission has some fair rules, it is pretty difficult to reject a team just because you don’t like them. It’s much more likely they could not get paperwork in place, for example, fundamental problems with their accounts.

    • I mentioned it on Twitter and the good news is that Argos have been told to continue with the cycling sponsorship as they wish, it’s not like a takeover where the branding and marketing change from one day to the next.

  15. To Nick December 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm: I agree, Russia more concerned by football and the winter games in Sotchi but still, within cycling this is still a big national project. No other nation has three pro teams: Katusha, Itera-Katusha and Rusvelo. So small for Russia but bigger for cycling?

  16. Quick theory on Katusha being left out: UCI could only allow 20 in and that had to mean Saxo out. BUT…can’t leave Contador, Riis et. al. out of World Tour, so throw out someone who is a guaranteed in, Katusha, then say later it was all a mistake and the only right thing to do is to let 21 teams in for just this year. Just give it a few days…

  17. Katusha’s problems seem to be meeting the financial criteria. There are four criteria: sporting, ethical, admin and financial.

    Financial is not just about having the money, clearly with Itera and Gazprom as sponsors this is the pro cycling team with the biggest sponsors by far. No, instead it is about how the money is used, tracing it within the team via audited accounts etc. Not so much how much money but the who, when, where and why of its use.

    Here is a fax from Katusha sent to the UCI:
    Katusha fax

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