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Kristoff hopes Katusha’s doping woes have no impact on his season

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff hopes his 2016 ambitions are not derailed by his Katusha team’s recent doping scandals.

Kristoff, 28, told reporters at the Tour of Qatar that he feared Katusha would be booted from the race after its most recent doping positive. On Friday, the UCI announced that Katusha rider Eduad Vorganov would be provisionally suspended after testing positive for the drug meldonium in an out-of-competition test.

“It seemed that maybe we’d be going on a day trip down here,” Kristoff said. “They said they’d be really strict with the new rules.”

UCI rules allow the governing body to suspend a team from between 15-45 days, if two riders test positive during a 12-month period. Vorganov’s positive comes just seven months after Katusha’s workhorse Luca Paolini tested positive for cocaine during the 2015 Tour de France.

The UCI has yet to announce a suspension for Katusha. Team and UCI officials are awaiting the results of the rider’s “B” sample.

Kristoff admitted he felt powerless in the situation.

“I cannot control what they are doing at home, so I can’t feel personally upset,” he said. “But for the team it’s always shit to have a positive case.”

Kristoff declined to speculate about Vorganov’s case, other than to say he did not recognize meldonium. The anti-ischemic drug is often used to treat patients with chronic heart failure. It was added to the WADA list of banned substances in January 2016.

“For sure it’s on the [WADA] list and it’s not legal to take it,” Kristoff said.

The positive test painted a bad picture of team Katusha, which saw Paolini test positive just months after winning Gent-Wevelgem. In 2013 Katusha had to fight to keep its UCI WorldTour license after four riders failed anti-doping tests within four years.

The Tour of Qatar has not suspended Katusha, so it is widely believed that the race will start on Monday. Kristoff is a heavy favorite for the overall. He won three stages and finished third overall behind Nikki Terpstra (Etixx – Quick-Step) in 2015. And with Etixx—Quick-Step not participating in this year’s race, the door is open for a powerful rider like Kristoff to succeed.

Kristoff will likely battle with sprinters Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (both Dimension Data), and breakaway specialist Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team).

“We will start [with the overall] as an objective, we’ll take it day by day,” Kristoff said. “Last year, was close because I had a lot of bonus seconds with three stages wins, and then I lost it in the time trial, but I didn’t lose too much. Hopefully, I can do the same thing again.”

Kristoff said the Tour of Qatar represents an important training and racing bloc as he prepares for his Spring Classics campaign. Kristoff is the defending champion of Belgium’s Tour of Flanders, and he’s on the short list of riders to contend for Paris-Roubaix, Ghent-Wevelgem and the other springtime races.

Kristoff said Qatar is often a bellweather for those races.

“Often the guys who are doing well in Qatar are… those doing well at the other classics,” he said. “It’s important for me to do this race and I hope we can do it.”