Blazin' Saddles

Katusha have lift-off

Blazin' Saddles

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The
Gazprom-funded Russian-based team Katusha looked to be running on empty during the Tour
but now their engine is really hitting top gear.

Back-to-back
wins from Daniel Moreno and now Joaquim Rodriguez means Katusha are the
Vuelta's in-form team, with both Spanish riders currently sitting comfortably
in second and third in the GC, ready to pounce on the next Sylvain Chavanel
slip.

Named after a type of rocket artillery first built and fielded by the Soviet
Union in World War Two, Katusha always had big ambitions. Yet in recent races,
we've seen a Katusha team firing nothing but blanks - a team recalling more the
Russian equivalent of the name 'Katie' than a kick-ass weapon of mass
destruction.

Yes, the
team had been far cry from the Katusha rocket launchers renowned for their
loud "whoosh" and whose devastating destruction helped lower the
morale of the German army - until now. Just ask Andreas Kloeden, who lost 19
minutes to Moreno on Tuesday and then another 15 minutes to Rodriguez on
Wednesday.

The
reinvigorated team is incomparable to the all-Russian Katusha team of the Tour
de France, which struggled in every department and delivered nothing remotely
close to a win - a team, let's face it, who were basically a bunch of girls, or
Katies, if you will.

Saddles was
one of many commentators who lambasted Katusha's stance of sending an
all-Russian squad to the Tour. The team may be organised by the rather
grand-sounding Russian Global Cycling Project, but just what was particularly
global about sending nine lacklustre home riders to the world's biggest cycling
race?

Could you
imagine the uproar if Astana ever decide to send an all-Kazakh squad to a Grand
Tour?

But now
it's beginning to make sense. You see, Katusha have no French riders on their
books and so no body of men bent on riding their national Tour in July.

For the
Giro, they sent Italians Danilo Di Luca and Giampaolo Caruso, and now for the
Vuelta the team can call on four experienced riders from their large Spanish
contingent.

The truth
of the matter is that you cannot ride two Grand Tours in a row competently -
just ask Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish - especially not two races just
one month apart.

The Vuelta
is always going to be most Spaniards' main focus of the season - and given that
Rodriguez is Katusha's biggest chance of a Grand Tour victory, it's no surprise
they kept him back (and his Spanish lieutenants) for the race that mattered.

As big as
the Tour is, it was just not high on Katusha's priorities this season. It was a
chance to work on the internal side of the Russian Global Cycling Project - but
the main focus was always going to be the Vuelta.

And it is a
tactic that is now paying off. Make no mistake, Rodriguez is one of the main
contenders for this year's Vuelta - especially in the light of Igor Anton's
apparent early demise. If he doesn't win the whole thing, he'll certainly pick
up at least another stage - and Katusha have never won more than two stages on
one Grand Tour since their inception in 2009.

Surely that
alone is worth a few weeks of ignominy over the roads of France? Global
domination awaits... perhaps.

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