Katusha: we know whodunnit, but not why

crankpunk’s seen it all now. just when you thought that favoritism and an absurd disregard for the blatantly obvious might have become a thing of the past, when you felt that the powers-that-be could no longer act with impunity and that they would have to comprehend that their motives must be in the best interests of the sport and that we need nothing less than complete transparency at this critical time, they go and do something like this.

in case you missed it (and you might have, for there was a real tragedy yesterday of course in Connecticut that puts everything into perspective, i’m sure all our thoughts go out to those involved), the UCI somehow managed to ignore the fact that the Russian outfit Katusha came 2nd in the Team World Rankings last year and decided not to award them a WorldTour license.

before i get started on Saxo-Tinkoff – who were awarded a license despite ranking only 15th in team classification – let’s look at the Katusha decision. ok, Denis Menchov. not my favorite rider at all. there’s a bit of a stink around Denis the Menace, not just because of his incredibly erratic riding (see winning Giro d’Italia in May 2009 then completely bombing in the Tour in July), but also because Italian authorities linked him to Dr. Ferrari in a doping ring that included LA, Scarponi (who’s just been banned and suspended for links to the notorious doctor) and about 25 others.

Pro-Continental for Denis in 2013?
Pro-Continental for Denis in 2013?

at the time, CyclingNews wrote that “Police are investigating possible acts of money laundering, fraud and doping and it seems police have already seized 2.4 million Euro from Menchov’s accounts.” obviously charges have not yet been brought against Menchov and as of yet there are no indications that any will – or do the UCI know better than me? possibly, i have no idea. could there be an investigation pending into one or more members of the Russian squad? anything is possible. this could be one reason for the UCI’s decision – the problem is that, as usual, the UCI is acting in this case as though it is above explanation, unaccountable to no one but itself. you award a lowly team with proven connections to doping a wildcard spot in the highest tier of the sport, yet deny the 2nd placed squad and offer no reason.

let’s spare a though here too for Joaquim Rodriguez, who i’m sure will get a place on another team, but who right now must be feeling like he’s been dropped from a great height. Steady Eddie amassed 692pts last season to Wiggo’s 601, to win the accolade of #1 Rider in the World, a moniker most of us have little time for but which he definitely earned, with a win in the Points Classification at the 2012 Giro as well as victories at the Fleche Wallone and the Giro di Lombardia.

he's probably not smiling today...
he’s probably not smiling today…

he can ride, that lad, that’s for sure. as well as that, he talks the talk. here’s what he said to nieuwsblad.be

“I know the road I’ve travelled; I do not think I ever had a problem with doping nor will I have. I want to help make this sport better. This sport has a past. That is also the reason why there are now so many anti-doping rules… We, the riders of today, are the real losers. We lose sponsors, money, credibility and love of the people. Let us also look ahead. Throw doping sinners out for life, Doctors, riders, everyone involved.”

ok, now Monsieur Riis, the Clenbuterol Kid and the TinkerMan. three letters: WTF. i just can’t get my head around this one. Riis is a confessed doper that his own national federation want to speak to about the doping practises alleged by former rider Tyler Hamilton on Riis’ old CSC team.

“There’s nothing we can do because the Danish federation has no jurisdictional power over the teams. They have licenses with the UCI, so it’s a UCI issue,” Thomas Lund, head of the Danish federation, said last week. “If we called Bjarne in, or if we start an investigation, we’d be the laughing stock. We simply have no power over the team owners.”

‘it’s a UCI issue.’ says it all really, doesn’t it? of course there should be checks in place for those wanting to own teams, and to manage them. i mean, you wouldn’t allow a convicted thief to manage your bank, would you? exasperated at being unable to act on the information offered by Hamilton, Lund has said he won’t discuss the matter further, but here’s what he said a couple of weeks ago:

“Now we know of course that Tyler Hamilton and Bjarne Riis both have economized with the truth earlier. In DCU (Danish Cycling Union) we would like to comment on things, but we do it only on the basis of facts. This situation is so extraordinary, that I will say; Bjarne Riis has a very big problem, if it can be proved that there is a direct link between him and Fuentes.”

cheer up Bjarney, you got another year...
cheer up Bjarney, you got another year…

then we have El Tinko, also known as Oleg Tinkov. a former rider turned successful businessman, Tinkov is quite a character. this is a guy who said that the problem of doping in cycling is “exaggerated.” the aforementioned Tyler Hamilton was also on one of Tinkov’s previous teams and states in his book that the Russian told his riders that if they did dope, it was their responsibility to make sure that “they didn’t get caught.” now, whatever you may think of Hamilton – and i for one am not a fan – his descriptions of doping and of the coverups are so descriptive that it seems hard to believe they are fabrications. indeed, even if you disregard Hamilton’s words, do we need a guy around who says that doping in cycling is not really a problem?

finally, Contador. yes, the finest Grand Tour rider of his generation. yes, a big draw with the crowds, certainly the Spanish. and yes, there is the possibility, however slim you may believe, that he did ingest the Clenbuterol found in his system unknowingly – but he did fail a drug test. Menchov never did.

so, according to the rules – and let’s remember Katusha was 2nd in the rankings – and remembering the confession of Riis to doping in his past and taking into consideration Tinkov’s stance – why was Katusha denied a license? dear UCI, if you know something now is the time to tell.

i can imagine a scenario where the UCI fears an investigation that targets big riders in the WorldTour, that it can see coming and is powerless to stop. now we have talk of an amnesty for riders that confess, yet the 2013 season looms – have we time to set this up? hard as it is to imagine, a part of me wonders if we shouldn’t scrap the 2013 season to get all this sorted. have elections for the UCI presidency, deal with Change Cycling Now and the Pierce/Vaughters breakaway, set up a body for fans that has some sort of a vote in how the UCI is run and set up an truly independent commission to investigate what has gone on and to run the anti-doping tests.

i see an amazing and largely unexpected opportunity to sort things out, and it is slipping through our fingers. i see platitudes creeping back in, a hierarchy desperate to hold onto power in the face of a strong but perhaps fatally ill-coordinated public anger, and a cabal of powerful but questionable money men devising ways to make cash from the sport i love so much, stupid and irrational as that love may be.

what we have here in this case, i feel, is the UCI fearing another scandal. the fact that they themselves are in a very large part responsible for the current situation in the sport being so incredibly fragile is lost on them, otherwise we would have had resignations, more contriteness and an official apology. it can’t go on, we holler and shout – but it still is.

man. yuck.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

4 thoughts

  1. UCI is acting for itself and no one else that’s the problem
    i think Crankpunk is right Pat mcQuaid and co protect themselves more than representing the interests of sport.Politic over sport.Rubbish.

  2. Great piece, Lee…one correction – Saxo was actually ranked 20th in the UCI’s hierarchy of teams, which is the list that is used for WorldTour licence consideration.

  3. Interesting article. I think the UCI are fully aware there’s more bad publicity brewing but this latest move just further erodes whatever faith remains in their ability to sort things out. I have previously outlined a few other reasons why Katusha may have been in the firing line which might interest you and which you can read here: http://wp.me/p2gCVr-Dn

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