Katusha defend doping record
Katusha have defended their record on doping after cycling's world governing body (UCI) dropped them from the top flight and the Russian team are putting their faith in the Court of Arbitration for Sport to regain their elite status.
Last week, the UCI's licence commission rejected Katusha's application to compete in the World Tour next year because of the team's doping record over the past four years.
Katusha, who finished second in the World Tour standings this year, have appealed the decision to the Lausanne-based CAS.
"Yesterday we received a statement from the UCI, explaining to us the reasons for their decision," Katusha General Manager Vyacheslav Ekimov told a small group of reporters after the team's official presentation in the Italian city of Brescia.
"We were told Katusha have had the most doping cases among all the Pro Tour teams, citing four cases between 2009 and 2012. But one such case, involving Alexandr Kolobnev, should not count because he was later cleared of any doping charges."
Kolobnev escaped a suspension for failing a drugs test at the 2011 Tour de France after the Russian cycling federation took into account extenuating circumstances in his case.
"The UCI also said Katusha don't do enough tests within the team to catch doping cheats," Ekimov said.
"They also blamed us for Denis Galimzyanov's positive test, even though the rider had admitted that it was his own mistake."
Galimzyanov tested positive for the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) in April. Russia's top sprinter was subsequently fired by Katusha and said he took the drug by himself without telling anyone in the team.
On Wednesday, Russia's anti-doping agency banned Galimzyanov for two years, starting from April 13, 2012.
When an Italian journalist questioned Ekimov, a long-time teammate of disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong, about his own doping record, the Russian snapped back: "You have been misinformed."
"During the hearing, the UCI never mentioned my name, Denis Menchov or (Italian doctor) Michele Ferrari," he added.
Katusha leader Menchov came under a cloud last year when French sports daily L'Equipe produced its doping suspicion index, in which riders were given a rating of suspicion on a scale from 0 - not suspicious - to 10 - highly suspicious.
Menchov was rated at 9.
The Russian denied the allegations and said it was just a case of sour grapes by the French.
Ferrari was banned from cycling for life for his alleged ties to Armstrong, helping him win a record seven Tour de France titles on the back of a highly sophisticated doping scheme.
Triple Olympic champion Ekimov questioned the UCI methods.
"I want to make it clear - we're not going to war against the UCI," said the Russian, who was awarded his third Olympic gold medal after American Tyler Hamilton was stripped of his Athens 2004 time trial title because of doping.
"We're only fighting for our rights. Why one team gets the licence and another doesn't? Everything is based on the opinion of four UCI officials. There's no precise criteria."
Asked by Reuters if Katusha had a plan B in case the CAS decision goes against them, Ekimov said: "We only have one plan - plan A. When we get the CAS decision and it's not a favourable one, we'll think of an alternative plan."
Ekimov said every Katusha rider, including world No 1 Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, expressed their loyalty to the team.
"I've asked all our riders if they want to stay with us and every one said yes. All our major sponsors are also committed to the team even if we're excluded from the elite," he said.