Friday, March 1, 2013

We are Devo: The Rise and Fall of Itera-Katusha

In this new set of posts, We are Devo, I will be highlighting as the development teams of the cycling world. It sort of sucks when you see new names on teams and you have no idea what their strengths or weaknesses are or anything about them other than how old they are and if they do/do not have a mullet.  On tap today is the interesting team of Itera-Katusha. As the development team for the Katusha World Tour squad the last 5 years, the team has lived in a bizarro world where they win bunches of races on the development level but whenever they send riders to the World Tour, they underperform and waste away, leaving the system or ride in anonymous mediocrity. For this season, most of their talent has been liquidated to other Russian teams in RusVelo and Helicopters. The Rise and Fall of Itera-Katusha is on display for all to see.

To be frank, Katusha is a blackhole when it comes to developing their homegrown talent. While Katusha has 17 Russian riders on their 30 man roster, 6 of them come from their Itera-Katusha system, three of which are first year neo-pros. Katusha has been relying on Joaquim Rodriguez and other foreign riders to hold up the team while the majority of their development riders just can't find success on the next level and either sink into mediocrity or leave the squad. This article isn't an argument for a team based upon nationalistic principles but at what point do they look at their development system and  begin to cut some of their losses?

Over the last half decade, Itera-Katusha has been one of the most successful teams on the continental level. Since the inception of Team Katyusha in 2008 to the present with Itera-Katusha, the team has won 98 UCI races and this doesn't include any success the team has seen on the amateur circuit. This is an incredible amount of winning for a team that has had to share talent with the Russian National team, Katusha's U21/23 squad and other Russian continental teams. So with all of this success in the continental ranks, you would assume that the Katusha would be able to transition this talent into World Tour success...right? Right, guys? Guys?

Let's examine the 6 riders from the Itera system now on the Katusha roster to see if we can find some answer. Timofey Kritskiy has had his career nearly ruined by a broken femur at the Tour de l'Avenir 2009. He went up to Katusha in 2010 but didn't ride until October. He went back to Itera in 2011 but complications from his injury saw that he didn't ride until Mid-June. 2012 was promising for Kritskiy but he again had another injury that put him out of action until late September. To be frank, Kritskiy has had shit luck and 2013 is his first chance at a full season since 2008. Alexander Porsev is going into his 3rd year with the team and has yet to experience a win with the squad. His last year with Itera-Katusha saw him take 4 victories but even with support, the closest Porsev has come to a professional win is at early season training races in Mallorca. Fellow 3rd year Petr Ignatenko is going into a crucial year where he will need results. He has showed promise in the mountains but he has yet to ride a Grand Tour and will have to make a big leap this season. Three freshman neo-pro's in Sergey Chernetskiy, Anton Vorobyev and Vyacheslav Kuznetsov make up the rest of the Itera-Katusha alumni.

So where has the rest of the promising talent gone? The Russian Cycling Project (funded by 3 gas giants which include Itera) is also responsible for the Pro Continental RusVelo team, which was originally started as a team for the track cyclists that were concentrated on the London Olympics and has continued to house many track riders. While they are funded by the Russian Cycling Project, they are not seen as a feeder to Katusha as no riders have left their to go to Katusha. In fact, 6 riders from Itera-Katusha left for RusVelo last season. To complicate the picture even more, it seems like RusVelo now have a feeder team this season, Helicopters, which will be based in Italy and led by former pro Alexander Efimkin. Katusha themselves lost out on Nikita Novikov, who left the system to go to Vacansoleil, and promising talent Egor Silin, who left the team to go to Astana in 2012.

So what is left of Itera-Katusha, the team that was filled with talent for the last 5 years? They are now a shell of their former self with only 4 riders from last year present on the squad. It is unclear what Katusha is going to do with their official development team or if they are going to go to RusVelo or other Russian teams for when they want Russian talent on their roster.

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