Who are the sponsor? Katusha is an conglomerate of Russian companies who sponsor the ‘national’ cycling team, mainly sponsored by Itera and Gazprom. It also supposedly means a type of rocket launcher.
2013 Ranking: 3rd
Past Stars: Denis Menchov, Oscar Freire, Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans, Fillipo Pozzato, Ben Swift.
Selected Team Palmares: 1st, 2007 Vuelta a Espana, 2009 Giro d’Italia, Stage, 2006 Tour de France, Stages, Giro d’Italia 2009×2, Stages, Vuelta a Espana 2004, 2005×2, 2007, 2012 (all Denis Menchov) 2012 and 2013 Giro di Lombardia, 2012 Fleche Wallone, UCI World Tour 2010 + 2012, 2013, Stage, 2010 Tour de France, Stages, Giro d’Italia 2012×2, Stages, Vuelta a Espana 2003, 2010, 2011×2, 2012×3,2013, 3rd, Tour de France 2013 (all Joaquim Rodriguez) Stages, 2013 Vuelta a Espana, 2013 Fleche Wallone (Dani Moreno)
Brief Team History: Formed out of the ashes of Tinkoff, not that they like to admit it as there is still some dispute between Tinkoff and the team over him being forced out, they became the ‘Global Russian Cycling Project’ and signed, er, lots of none Russians, such as Pozzato and McEwen, with Vladimir Karpets as their GC man. This didn’t go so well, and they kept being fairly sub par and turning out a few positive tests whilst simultaneously having a very strong anti-doping charter that effectively got rid of Gert Steegmans, who saw it as overly draconian. Eventually, they got hold of Denis Menchov, the pride of Russian cycling, but he was a bit past his prime, so they had to rely on Alexandre ‘Near Miss’ Kolobnev to carry the flag for Russia. Have essentially become Russo-Spanish, given Rodriguez and Moreno are the stars.
Last year: Everything in 2012 was about Joaquim Rodriguez, but in 2013 the spoils where shared around a bit more. Oddly, the year started with the team, who has come second in the previous years event, not being invited to the World Tour for political reasons, which caused problems when they were later admitted to the Giro and the like. Luckily, they wasted no time showing why they should still be in the competition, with Rodriguez beating a stellar field to win a stage ofthe Tour of Oman before Luca Paolini won them Het Niewsblad. Alexandre Kristoff then got a series of consistent placings in the spring classics, and Dani Moreno won Fleche Wallone, before the team showed why they deserved to be at the Giro by winning two stages with Paolini and Maxim Belkov as well as wearing the maglia rosa. Success in July came in Joaquim Rodriguez’s late surge to the final podium place in the centenary Tour, and the late season was all about him and his compatriot Moreno – the latter won two stages of the Vuelta before Rodriguez won ‘only’ one of his own, ultimately finishing 4th with Moreno 10th. Purito was then cruelly denied at he Worlds, but made up for it by winning his second consecutive Tour of Lombardy.
Transfer dealings: The chopping and changing of young Russians continues, although Denis Menchov has retired.
Who are the star riders? Now with podiums in all three grand tours to his name, Joaquim Rodriguez is the main man, with wingman Dani Moreno to assist in the mountains alongside Simon Spilak. The team has a nice line in classics riders such as Alexandre Kristoff, Alexandre Kolobnev, Luca Paolini and Marco Haller, and has some hitters in the shape of Maxime Belkov and Giampolo Caruso.
Fashion Police: The kit has become drained of much of the national imagery, and is almost the whitest in the peloton these days. The Russian flag ‘belt’ remains on the bottom however.
What are their targets? Rodriguez has gone back to aiming for the Giro and the Vuelta, seemingly keen to add a Grand Tour to his palmares as he enters his mid 30s. Moreno will probably be dedicated to him but have his eye on the week long stage races, whilst Kristoff, Paolini and co will want to keep up the strong classics form they showed in 2013. Kristoff in particular may want to chance his arm at a grand tour stage win – his sprinting form is on the rise.
What are they likely to achieve? I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want Rodriguez to win a Grand Tour, preferably both, but its a crowded field and the long time trials in both races will go against him. He will surely keep up his stage winning form however, and he and Moreno form a potent duo in the hilly classics. Winner of the Tour of Lombardy the last two years, he was second in Liege last year, and must surely have high hopes of adding another monument to his palmares. Even Milan San Remo is worth a shot. Elsewhere, the team will infiltrate breakaways and generally hope to pick off the opposition.
Components: There are no Russian racing bikes, so Canyon get the nod, as do Shimano and Santini for the kit.
The Big Question(s): Can Rodriguez maintain his stellar Grand Tour form? Can Kristoff score a break through?