A Russian-financed cycling team is set to muscle its way into the professional peloton in 2009, with ambitious plans to radically transform the sport in the country.
Katoucha, presented here in Pau Tuesday by former champion Andre Tchmil, will aim to make an impact among the world's top cycling teams with the wider aim of developing several disciplines of cycling within the framework of the Russian federation.
"First of all, it's a political decision," said Tchmil, a Moldovan-born ex-professional who is now a Belgian national, as he presented the team's programme for 2009.
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has given his full backing to the team, whose base will be made up of Tinkoff, the only Russian team currently racing among the European elite.
Katoucha will also have the financial backing of two major Russian firms, Gazprom and Itera, who will help provide an enormous budget of 30 million euros (nearly US$48 million) - although that budget will encompass plans to develop cycling within the Russian federation and within Russian society and the creation of the Sochi Pro Tour race, as a vehicle for promoting the winter Olympic Games in 2014.
Stefano Feltrin, the future manager of the Katoucha team, refused to say which top cyclists they would be aiming to attract although the name of QuickStep sprinter Gert Steegmans has already been linked to the team.
The team will be composed of riders with different nationalities, but with a majority of Russians, and would aim to do well across the board, from one-day classics to the major three-week Tours.
"We've got the money to sign whoever we want, from (Cadel) Evans, (Fabian) Cancellara or (Tom) Boonen," quipped current Tinkoff owner Oleg Tinkov. "But we won't pay a dime over their market price."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008