Russian outfit Katusha brings to the Tour de France what it calls a “balanced roster,” with riders for all terrain.
Joaquim Rodríguez, who crashed out of the Giro d’Italia, will slot into a “freelancer” role, ceding the GC hopes to up-and-coming Russian Iurri Trofimov. Milano-Sanremo winner Alexander Kristoff will try his luck in the bunch sprints.
“Katusha brings to the Tour de France a balanced roster, where a part of the team will be aiming for mountain stages and another part will aim for the sprinters’ stages,” said team manager Viatcheslav Ekimov in a team release. “This lineup reflects two main objectives for the team in the race. On the one hand, Trofimov will fight for the top-10 of the general classification … and Kristoff will fight against the world’s best sprinters in the flat stages.”
Despite riding to a first-ever Tour podium with third last year, Rodríguez, 35, didn’t have the Tour on his radar this season. Instead, he was focusing on outright victory at the Giro. Disaster struck, however, in stage 6, and Rodríguez did not start the next day after suffering a fractured rib and thumb.
The veteran Spaniard made a speedy recovery, however, opening the door for an unexpected Tour start. Rodríguez admits he won’t have the gunpowder to fight for the yellow jersey, but promised he won’t be on vacation, either.
“I am not using the Tour as a training race for the Vuelta a España,” Rodríguez said earlier this month. “I will be able to ride into better form for the final half of the Tour, and I will try to win a stage, and be a protagonist in the important part of the race.”
Along with Rodríguez, other riders will have freedom to hunt for stages out of breakaways, including Simon Spilak, Luca Paolini, and Gatis Smukulis.
“We hope ‘Purito’ will be able to find good form, which will allow him to fight for a stage win. And, of course, other riders of the team will hunt for stage wins, too,” Ekimov continued. “I think Katusha is ready for a new three-week adventure and the only thing I would like to wish for our team is just some good luck, the only component we really missed at the Giro d’Italia.”
Kristoff will have his chances in the bunch sprints. The steady and experienced wheel of Paolini will serve as a pilot in the closing kilometers, but Kristoff will have to try to hitch a ride on one of the major trains looking to dominate the sprint stages. Giant-Shimano, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and Lotto-Belisol all brings squads targeting the sprints.
The 26-year-old Norwegian has enjoyed a breakout season with eight victories, capped by his huge win at Milano-Sanremo. Whether he can truly battle the top sprint stars at the top of their game remains to be seen.
Getting the nod to fight for the GC is Russian all-rounder Trofimov. A winner of a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Trofimov, 30, has ridden eight grand tours, with a career-best 13th overall at last year’s Giro. A top-10 would exceed expectations.
Katusha for Tour de France (July 5-27)
Iurii Trofimov (RUS)
Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA)
Egor Silin (RUS)
Simon Spilak (SLO)
Alexander Kristoff (NOR)
Aleksandr Porsev (RUS)
Luca Paolini (ITA)
Gatis Smukulis (LAT)
Vladimir Isaychev (RUS)