If there is one team that speaks to the truly international flavor of cycling today, it would be Katusha. The Russian team, aboard German bikes and home to a Spanish armada of riders that includes in its ranks the UCI #1 ranked rider Joaquim Rodriguez finds it servizio corsa (race shop) in Verona, Italy just off the main A4 thoroughfare.
Although this is considered the “quiet time” of the season when team riders are enjoying a few spare weeks away from the bike and race calendar, for the team administration itself this could well be the busiest time of the year as they deal with rider and sponsor contracts, 2013 financing and logistics, and of course material acquisition. The big news here – since every ProTour team is doing the same thing – is that former racer Viatcheslav Ekimov has recently taken the helm of the operation. Not just as a team manager, but “Eki” is the team director. This is a major career change for the famous Russian who is not only an Olympic gold medalist, but one of the most revered “hard men” of the sport.
The Katusha team was formed in 2008 under the auspices of the Russian Global Cycling Project banner that was organized by a group of wealthy Russian businessmen who also happen to both former racers and current cycling fans. The goal is simple – help Russia re-emerge as a cycling powerhouse. And to that end, besides the WorldTour team, there is also a Pro Continental team and a U-23 squad.
The front of the building is taken up with unadorned office space, but walk through the door that leads to the back of the building and you walk into a massive space that’s set aside for all the team vehicles and bikes.
RBA MINI-VIEW: Katusha General Manager, Viatcheslav Ekimov
RBA: So what has the transition been like from racer to general manager?
Eki: No matter what the title is, for me the aim is always the same ? to win races. I have been a racer of course so I know the problems of the riders and I’ve tried to keep those feelings close to me so I can stay on the rider’s side.
RBA: You had a long career and saw many trends come and go. What is your perspective on the sport today?
Eki: I think too many of the new guys are too fragile. They put too much focus on the bikes and technology. Technology (race radios) is good, but a rider still needs his natural instincts. You need to know when and where to attack and relax. I think we need to always look back to the days of Merckx?that’s the soul of the sport. Back then the riders were left to sort it out on the road.
RBA: What is the goal of the Russian project?
Eki: Russia has a good history in cycling. Well, it was the Soviet days, but we had a lot of knowledge and success. The goal was always the same, we never cared about silver or bronze, only gold. After the fall, the structure was gone and everyone was only looking for ways to survive. What the Katusha team is trying to do is reestablish cycling in Russia and Russia in cycling. We have the finances, the coaches and plenty of young riders. The Katusha team is like a big carrot for Russian cyclists!
The bike room was loaded with all the 2012 race bikes (TT bikes on the left, road bikes on the right). What you can’t see in this photo is more bikes on another set of walls. The amount of equipment needed to run a top flight team is truly amazing.
German bike maker Canyon will return for 2013. Right now the team mechanics are fretting over the delivery schedule for both the new bikes and the 11 speed drivetrains from Shimano. Eki said that it looked like the team would most likely start the year on the 2012 bikes, but was concerned that Shimano might not be providing any race support for the now dated ten speed drivetrains.
When you are the number one ranked rider in the world, you qualify as a rider worthy of a special bike.
If the number of bikes and frames wasn’t staggering enough to see, the wall-o-wheels was enough to take your breath away. Again, this collection of Mavic wheels were just one collection inside the race shop.
The collection of Canyon’s radically shaped time trial bikes take on the feel of wall art.
To distinguish themselves from the WorldTour team, Katusha’s Pro Continental squad run with blue colors.
To help the mechanics and riders find their bikes, they have handy signs to identify who’s bike is whos.
The smaller support trucks have room for bikes, tools and gear in the back with the front portion dedicated to a washer and dryer and a refrigerator.
After coming close to winning the Giro d’Italia, Joaquim Rodriguez came back strong in August to almost win the Vuelta a Espana. After the Vuelta he went on to win the Tour of Lombardy to help seal his top overall ranking in the world.
For more info: Katusha Team.