22 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 11 - Katusha

The Russian backed team are coming to this Tour with a proven Grand Tourist leading their team, a rider who may well bring a challenge to the Froome-Contador battle that many were not looking beyond.

Joaquim Rodriguéz has been in the top four of 4 of the last 5 Grand Tours (since he joined Katusha in 2010) he has contested and 7 top ten finishes since 2008. In the last two years he's been 4th then 2nd in the Giro d'Italia, and in 2010 and 2012 finished 3rd in the Vuelta a España. In both 2010 and 2012 he topped the UCI Tour ranking, winning the late season Giro di Lombardia being enough to overcome Bradley Wiggins outstanding year. This year he has already finished 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Volta a Catalunya. His lose in last year's Giro only came on the last stage time trial which is not his strongest suit, though he can be an explosive rider in the Mountains. The way he is riding recently is more likely to put pressure on the way Sky would have wanted to ride the mountains with Wiggins, though Froome has the sort of acceleration that might be able to respond repeatedly. With Contador not looking too sharp at times this year I think that Rodriguéz may well be the one challenging Froome for the title in what is only his second Grande Bouclé.

Daniel Moreno came from the same Caisse d'Epargne team as Rodriguez and found his way into each of his Grand Tour Teams since he arrived in Katusha. He will be the super domestique on this team, being 9th in the 2011 Vuelta and 5th last year just over a minute down on Chris Froome. He won this year's La Flèche Wallonne and was 3rd in the Critérium du Dauphiné behind the Sky double act of Froome and Richie Porte. In the Dauphiné he was riding better than Rodriguez, but that may have been down to the weather. However, he will be the second string to the Katusha bow in the stage and is capable of a top ten finish even if he does ride in support of Rodriguez.

The first of three Russians on the squad is Pavel Brutt a puncheur who will be competing in his second Grand Tour of the season having completed the Giro in May.  Indeed this will be his third consecutive Grand Tour. He was one of those who crashed out on the crash strewn stage 9 of the 2011 Tour, the last time he took part here in France. But in 2008 he was part of a breakaway  on the medium mountain stage 5 that stayed away and allowed him to win the stage. Sadly he was out of the race 4 stages later.

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff will turn 26 on the day the race heads to Albi on 5 July in this his debut Tour. Last year the sprinter took the bronze in the Olympic Road Race and this year took three stages in his home Tour of Norway. He has had three top ten finishes in the monument classics this year 4th in the Tour of Flanders, 8th in Milan-San Remo and 9th in Paris-Roubaix. So he has shown that he is somewhat more than just a last minute sprinter. In 2011 he was his national road race champion.

Aleksandr Kuschynski was the 2005, 2010 and 2011 Belarus Road Race Champion. In 2007 he won three stages and the GC of the Five Rings of Moscow. This will be the roleur's 6th appearance in the Tour his best stage result coming in his debut in 2007 when he was 9th on the stage into Marseille when he had been leading out Michael Albasini for the sprint. He's been part of a number of well placed Team Time Trials for Katusha in recent years so expect him and the team to place well again on stage 4.

Spaniard Alberto Losada moved from Caisse d'Epargne to Katusha in 2011 the year after Rodriguez, but has been part of each Rodriguez Grand Tour appearance since he moved. He will be a domestique for his fellow Spaniard. He was 11th in this year's Paris-Nice. This will be his first Tour after 7 previous Grand Tours since his debut in the Giro in 2007.

26 year old Latvian Gatis Smukulis is making his Tour debut. He was another rider who was part of the team that helped Rodriguez around the Giro and Vuelta last year for two top three finishes, in what to date have been his only Grand Tours. Earlier this week he won the Latvian time trial championship for the third year in a row and came second in their road race championships. His only pro win to date was in the 2011 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.

Yuri Trofimov along with Brutt is the only member of this squad to have taken part and completed this year's first Grand Tour the Giro, as well as being another Russian. He was the top placed Katusha finisher in the Giro coming 13th. This will be his 5th Tour participation. He is a former mountainbike U23 world champion with stage wins in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco and Etoile de Bessèges, when he won a stage in the latter he also won the GC in 2008. He is liable to be another strong support for Rodriguez after his performance in this year's Giro.

The final Russian on the team is Eduard Vorganov who has worn the national jersey as Russian Road Race champion for the last twelve months, it was a jersey he won in an all-Katusha podium. Last year he finished 19th in the Tour in support of Denis Menchov. In 2009 he managed his best finishes in both the Giro and Vuelta 23rd and 26th respectively. He's ridden for both Rodriguez and Menchov as team leaders over the last few years so is well versed to supporting a leader riding high in the GC.

While Rodriguez is the de facto leader of this Kathusha team, Daniel Moreno is a good rider to have in reserve. There could well be two top ten rides in this team. Kristoff has a less than 20% success rate against Cavendish, Greipel or Sagan and only wins one in three against Kittel. It may not be enough for him but this will be a learning experience against so many of the world's fastest finishers in one race.

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