Gazprom-RusVelo riders on the market as team suspends all activity
The Gazprom-RusVelo cycling team have formally suspended its activities and released their riders and staff from their contracts, with team manager Renat Khamidulin accusing UCI president David Lappartient of doing nothing to try to help the team try to survive.
The UCI followed similar decisions in other sports and the International Olympic Committee’s recommendations when, on March 1, they suspended all Russian and Belarusian teams, including Gazprom-RusVelo, from competition following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Individual Russian and Belarusian athletes have been allowed to continue to compete for other teams.
Since then Khamidulin has desperately been trying to find a new title sponsor to cover estimated costs of €4 million but so far has nothing concrete in place.
Khamidulin is angry that the UCI did not try to do more to keep the team alive under a different nationality, which would have helped find a new sponsor. He is about to formalise the termination of the rider and staff contracts and wind down the management company that ran the team from Switzerland and Italy.
He told Cyclingnews that the team had funding in place to pay salaries for the whole of March and invitations to 15 days of WorldTour racing but claimed the UCI would not help them to try to survive.
“We’ve suspended all activity as we said we’d do. We’re still looking for a sponsor but there’s nothing concrete in place and so I can’t ask the 52 riders and staff to wait any longer,” Khamidulin said.
“It’s tragic because we’ve got a perfectly functioning team structure, with team cars, team buses, bikes and equipment and riders who are able to win. Mathias Vacek won a stage at the UAE Tour and on Sunday Alessandro Fedeli finished second at the GP Industria in Italy.”
The team was sponsored by Gazprom Germany, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gazprom in Russia, but the team was ready to race in blank white jerseys under a new nationality to try to attract a new sponsor. French companies Look and Corima pulled their support of the team in early March but the team kept the equipment, removing all branding.
“We’d have attracted a lot of attention which could have helped save the team. It was our chance, the riders agreed to the plan and were motivated but the UCI said no and did not help us at all. By not doing anything, they went against us,” Khamidulin claimed.
The riders and staff are now free to find new teams but even the most successful riders such as UAE Tour stage winner Mathias Vacek and team leader Ilnur Zakarin will struggle to find new teams mid-season, with 2022 budgets allocated.
A number of leading WorldTour teams have been hit by COVID-19 cases and injury this spring but the UCI has so far refused to increase the 31-rider team size limit to help the teams and the Gazprom-RusVelo riders. EF Education EasyPost, Ineos Grenadiers, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, Israel-Premier Tech, QuickStep-AlphaVinyl and Trek-Segafredo all have 31 riders – the maximum allowed for 2022 – and so cannot increase their roster. ProTeams have smaller rosters and budgets and so are less likely to hire riders mid-season.
“The world of cycling is watching to see what the UCI does to help but we’re seeing they want to play at politics rather than defend and help the riders and staff,” Khamidulin told Cyclingnews.
“The UCI wanted to punish a Russian team but they’re penalising riders from Italy, Norway, Spain and even Costa Rica. Even if three or four of the riders find new teams, all the others, 18 or so, are going to be left on the street. That’s not right. I’ve also got a mechanic from the Ukraine and Russian staff who have wives from the Ukraine, who have lost their jobs there. They’re desperate.
“That’s why I ask: where’s the UCI? Why won’t they help to keep the team alive under a different nationality.
“I’ve never had a clear response to my appeals. Yet I’ve seen that the French president Emmanuel Macron has spoken about trying to find a diplomatic solution for the war between Russia and the Ukraine. Macron speaks but Lappartient hasn’t spoken. Why not?”
The UCI updated its rules as of March 1 to allow Russian and Belarusian riders to pursue contracts with other teams not registered in those countries to allow them to continue to compete.
The UCI did not respond to emails and messages sent by Cyclingnews concerning the Gazprom-Rusvelo team.