Wednesday, April 22, 2009


In Soviet Russia...

Amstel Gold Race Wins You

When the Katusha cycling team, the biggest, most visible component of the “Russian Global Cycling Project,” became a reality this season, the formula looked familiar. While the team’s stated aim is to develop young talent from the home country, the Russian squad hired a healthy dose of mercenary foreign talent to keep the sponsors’ names in the papers until that young talent was sufficiently developed to provide the results on its own. Sure, the team lured some veteran Russian riders home, giving the team a little more authenticity and providing the youngsters with some native-language support and role-models, but most people expected that the first major results would come from Robbie McEwen racking up some stage wins, or Filippo Pozzato or Gert Steegmans bagging a big cobbled classic.

That’s not an indictment of the team’s methodology. Like I said, it’s a pretty standard format these days, particularly for young teams coming from outside the traditional Western European cycling nations. Think (post-Vino and Kash) Astana with Contador, Armstrong, Leipheimer, Kloden, or Garmin-Slipstream hiring Backstedt, Millar, and Wiggins. It’s also a good business strategy – by bringing in some foreign names with dependable specialties, the teams can secure the wins their sponsors demand without unduly burdening their more developmental riders with winning expectations right out of the gate. With the direction the sport is trying to take with regard to drug use, I’d call that a positive.

So Katusha set out this season looking for early wins from McEwen and Pozzato, home country interest from perennial Tour hope Vladimir Karpets, and some quality racing miles for its slew of younger riders, like Mikhail Ignatiev and Ivan Rovny. So when veteran Russian hardman Sergei Ivanov outsprinted the younger and much more fancied Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank) to win the Amstel Gold Race, the team got something even better than it planned – the team’s first big classics win, gift-wrapped and delivered by a native Russian.

For a project that states freely and often its insidiously Cold War-esque mission of returning mother Russia to her “proper place” in the cycling world, it doesn’t get too much better than that. Yes, at just 40-plus years old, the Amstel Gold Race is no monolithic Tour of Flanders, no storied Paris-Roubaix. But for a team with Katusha’s goals, what’s better: your imported Italian playboy winning Flanders, or your Soviet-era, life-long worker Ivanov winning a pretty solid classic? I’d argue for the latter.

Race Radio

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>>>despite the presence of a second Dutch team in Skil-Shimano

Oh, c'mon. That's like saying, "Despite the presence of a third American team in the TdF, Jelly Belly, Americans again failed to finish atop the podium." Skil-Shimano is a really good team, but they strike me as the equivalent of a 4A team in pro baseball - not quite the big boys but better than typical continentals. Hey wait, was this a test to see if any of your readers know that Skil-Shimano isn't just the name on remaindered jerseys sold at Nashbar?
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