NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Russian cycling team Katusha won its appeal against the International Cycling Union's decision to deny it top-tier status this season for "ethical" reasons.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said on Friday it upheld Katusha's challenge to the rejection by the UCI licensing commission in December. Katusha will be automatically entered in all World Tour events, including the Tour de France, major stage races and one-day classics.
The legal victory ensures Katusha will keep its top rider, Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain. The verdict was "absolutely objective and justified," Russian cycling federation leader Igor Makarov said in a statement.
"I would like to express our deep (gratitude) to all, who sincerely empathized, hoped and believed that justice will be restored," said Makarov, a member of the UCI management board. The UCI must decide whether to remove another team's World Tour status to make space for Katusha within its quota of 18 top-tier teams.
"The UCI will now evaluate the consequences of this ruling and will communicate further in coming days, as soon as such evaluation has taken place," it said in a statement. The governing body confirmed its independent licensing panel denied the license on "ethical criterion." It also weighs factors such as team finances and quality of riders.
In 2012, Katusha rider Denis Galimzyanov admitted doping with EPO, and the UCI opened an investigation into claims that teammate Alexandr Kolobnev arranged a fix with Alexandre Vinokourov to let the Astana leader win the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic in April 2010. The allegation stated that Kolobnev was paid €150,000 (nearly $200,000) for agreeing to concede defeat in their two-man breakaway.
Katusha also recently appointed Viatcheslav Ekimov as general manager. The three-time Olympic champion was a longtime teammate of Lance Armstrong with the U.S. Postal Service team. The Russian team looks to Rodriguez to help restore its reputation. The 2012 World Tour rankings leader was reportedly ready to leave if the team was not guaranteed a place in the Tour de France.
Rodriguez was riding for Katusha in the Tour of Oman on Friday when the urgent verdict was issued in Switzerland. CAS said its panel of three arbitrators "did not reach the same conclusions as the UCI licensing commission and decided to uphold the appeal." A detailed ruling will be published within weeks.
Katusha became the 19th licensed World Tour team, rising from the second-tier status which requires teams to seek wild card entries from race organizers. If the UCI drops an already registered team, that decision could prompt a further appeal at CAS.