Nothing screams the European continental circuit like some hopped up Russians riding into the crosswinds with reckless abandon. The past decade has been marked by nameless riders coming through the ranks, riding like hell and only a few getting the chance to move up to the pro ranks for a year or two before being spit out of the machine.
Itera-Katusha and Lokosphinx are, as of now, the two Russian teams that will be taking up the flag of Putin and going every which way around the continent. Except, you know, English speaking countries. Well except when you get Russians coming over to America to race criteriums in non-regulation kits while your team is under suspension and then mysteriously DNSing races...but that was just one time.
Itera-Katusha is getting some new blood in their management. Well actually, it is more like the now defunct Team 21's management is coming in. Latvian-Russian Piotr Ugrumov, a rider famous for his spiking hematocrit levels and incredible performance in the '94 Tour before fading to black, is coming in to lead the team.
The team is supposed to be a development team for the Katusha World Tour team but it is more of a holding pen for young riders and guys that are on the cusp of the pro ranks but not quite there. Usually one or two get the call up every year with some retiring and others coming back for yet another year of anonymous pedal turning.
The team has a few strong climbers including Dmitry Ignatiev, Matvey Mamykin and Sergei Pomoshnikov. Ignatiev, who had a very convenient two year lay-off from the sport, was riding like a bat out of hell at the Tour des Pays de Savoie but was overhauled on the final stage by Louis Vervaeke. Mamykin was top 10 twice this year in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta while Pomoshnikov is coming back from a stint with RusVelo and is looking to get back into the pro game.
There are good older riders on Itera including the Samokhvalov twins (both of who can climb), Sergey Nikolaev (sprinter) and the flying Maxims in Maxim Razumov and Maxim Pokidov, both of whom are good rouleurs that can time trial (finished 4th in the Duo Normand).
So who wants to sponsor some Russians for a year to get them to race on the NRC circuit? I would love to see them go up against America's best. Yes, this might sound like the Hell of the West from American Flyers. And yes, Amore & Vita did this with Volodymyr Starchyk when they brought the then Ukranian champ over in 2010 to plunder the Snake Alley criterium.
Prediction: 20 UCI wins...Outside of Russia: 7
Lokosphinx is fucking Loko. The team is headed up by famous coach Aleksandr Kuznetsov, who won a pile of gold medals for the Soviets with Ekimov and others and had to have had very big insight into the Soviet doping regime. The father of pro tennis player Svetlana Kuznetsova leads a team that includes 2 riders that have tested positive for doping, including one in Kirill Sveshnikov that was never really sanctioned by the Russians for his positive Clenbuterol test.
Sveshnikov and Evegeny Shalunov are both classics-style riders that can sprint fairly well. Aleksey Rybalkin showed his promise as a climbing talent with 3rd overall in the Tour de l'Avenir; another Russian I would love to see go to a proper team with proper doping controls to see if he is all he is talked up to be. Shilov is a good all-around rider but has a doping conviction to his name and this is his 4th year surfing the continental ranks with Lokosphinx. How many more years can he do this shit for?
Prediction: 4 UCI wins and one doping positive
I'm sure that I sound like a downer talking about these teams but after hearing stories and the way these teams treat their riders like cogs rather than humans, I'm sure this year will be more of the same from both of them.