There has been some cleaning house of sorts at Katusha cycling with Hans-Michael Holczer (formerly Gerolsteiner), Christian Henn, Erik Zabel, etc. coming in to be Manager, DS and advisor respectively. Nobody can deny that there was a lot of dislike around PdC for the management at Katusha Cycling, which I am not saying was unjustified by some of the moves that Andrei Tchmil and co. made over the last couple of years but I refused to put the team into my permanent dislike column.
Some of you might remember last year when Katusha was making a bid last year to grab Danilo Di Luca off the doping bench and there was a little polemica that they were going to have to shed some riders which was misunderstood because of lack of media attention. The rider that was "forced out" was Timofey Kritskiy but unless you follow his website (which is totally in Russian), you would be unaware that he wasn't forced out at all.
If you look at his results from 2010, you will see only a few end of the year semi-classics with some not so impressive results but that is only half the story. To understand everything, we must go back to the '09 season and that year's edition of the Tour de l'Avenir and the time trial that was to change everything...
Photo via kritskiy.com
**ACHTUNG...It's kind of long so be prepared =]**
For those that haven't heard of Timofey Kritskiy, your in for a nice little treat. He broke onto the scene at the '05 junior worlds with a silver medal in the RR (behind compatriot Ivan Rovny)...He then joined the Katyusha Continental team in '08 and exploded onto the scene with 9 wins, including wins in solo breaks, small group sprints, bunch sprints, over flat and hilly course...and don't think he was a slouch in the TT because he was 2nd in the Russian Elite champs (behind Gusev and above Karpets) and 2nd in the European U23 TT (7 sec. off Adriano Malori). When '09 came around, he didn't miss a beat...He won the important La Cote Picardie along with other solid one-day finishes, after missing the deciding break at Le Tour de Bretagne he crushed everyone in the TT to finish 2nd overall, won the 5 Rings of Moscow, 2nd to then-TT stud Kittel at the U23 Euro TT Champs by .75 seconds...Okay, that whole paragraph might have sounded like I am total fanboy but he really was one of the gems of his class so when Tour de l'Avenir came around that year, he was one of the clear favorites...
Lets do a quick recap of the '09 l'Avenir...The French had an A and B squad (which basically meant they had a 12 man team) broke away on the first stage with two riders (Julien Berard and favorite Romain Sicard) and they ended up taking over 1'30" on the peloton, which included overall favorites such as Tejay Van Garderen and Kritskiy. Kritskiy consistently finished high in the stages but Stage 6 saw him take center stage and attack on the finishing climb to Gerardmer, deep in the Vosges mountains. The only one that could follow was Sicard and the two of them took it to the line with Kritskiy outsprinting Sicard for the win. This vaulted Kritskiy up to 2nd overall for the stage 7 TT showdown...
The TT was run over a loop that contained a decent climb, flat section then descent back into the town of Ornans. It was going to be a stretch for him to take the overall lead but if nothing else, he would have the green jersey all locked down. When Kritskiy finally took off, he was absolutely flying...working up the climb in a good time then hitting the 55/12, touching speeds of 80 km/h on the section before the descent before the worst happened...on the 2nd turn of the descent, he washed out and went down hard...well hard doesn't quite really describe it
A picture (thankfully not from the front) was taken of the fallen Kritskiy, still pretty gruesome with the blood trailing from his leg. His tibia was shattered, with fragments of the bone sticking out of the wound on his leg (well Russian TV did a spot on him this year so you can see the re-enactment of the injury). The worst was feared; doctors telling Kritskiy that it would be a slim chance he would ever ride a bike again; a 42 cm rod was implanted into his leg and he was wheelchair bound for a few months. Nevertheless, he was signed by Katusha for 2010 season. Hell, I even signed him to my VDS team for 2010 and was excited to see what he could do because there was no media coverage of the severity of his injury and his road to recovery. As the 2010 season crept along, I heard nothing of him or what he was doing but would never see his name on the start list until a small explanation came out in the summer that year. The only races that he rode in 2010 were 4 late season semi-classics in Belgium & France with his best finish being a 70th place but he was back and I was so excited to see his name on the results sheets. While he was on the comeback, he was not out of the woods yet and when he began to train in November of '10, there was a small problem that turned into a BIG problem.
Do you remember that 42cm rod that he had implanted into his leg? Well he had that taken out following his comeback races in the fall of 2010 but only days afterwards there was a problem. The surgery, which was conducted in Italy, turned out that he had a false joint, which is a joint that forms at a badly united fracture, (correct that if I'm mistaken please) which was causing him a large amount of pain when he had the rod taken out of his leg. This leads me to the reason why I still have a shred of respect for Katusha and Andrei Tchmil. We here lots of stories about riders being cut loose by teams, even after large injuries, but Tchmil and Katusha stayed loyal to Kritskiy. They supported him through the whole ordeal, honored his contract, and the long rehabilitation that ensued from the surgery to correct the false joint.
Many teams would just cut a rider with no particular professional results after his first year, even if he was a neo-pro, but Katusha and Tchmil were prepared to put him on the ProTeam but he was still recovering from his injury.
Some come this year, I am still furiously searching for anything regarding his status but I see absolutely nothing. He was still listed on the roster in the pre-season until Mr. Di Luca came in and he mysteriously disappeared. I was pretty sad about it because, at that time, I didn't know much about the story or even the false joint for a while so I was under the impression he was pushed out until he updated his blog with the real story.
So by spring he was riding again, albeit slow but it was a work in progress to gain some precious muscle back. He was able to work his way back by June (he all ready had a spot reserved at Itera-Katusha, the feeder team for Katusha) for the Russian National Championships. The beginning of his comeback was a 9th place in the TT (he did have a flat though which cost him a chunk of time) and a DNF in the RR...more training was needed but it would pay off.
I have a lot love for Itera-Katusha because of how good they are as a development team (if only Katusha could actually develop the talent themselves) and because of that, they get a wide variety of race invites. In his first race out of Russia, Kritskiy was 5th overall at the Czech Cycling Tour followed with racing a couple of 1-days in Hungary and then the Tour of Alsace but he was building up to the Volta a Portugal.The 11-stage race was a big test for Kritskiy and while it was a struggle at times, he definitely passed. The Volta is very climbing heavy at times and Kritskiy struggled through it but when a sprint finish was on offer, he was present. On stage 6 he finished 3rd behind Fran Gavazzi (Vuelta stage winner) and to keep it going, he finished 9th in the next day TT (first non-Portuguese). With 2 stage wins at the Tour of Bulgaria, Kritskiy was selected to the Russian team for the Worlds Road Race.
While Kritskiy had a "very ordinary" performance as he described it (161st, in the gruppetto) and was not happy with his result, just finishing the race after an almost 2 year lay-off is something to say. His promotion up to the big team and his chance to finally race in the Pro Tour will be a great sight to see. It remains to be seen what he will be able to do in the big time...he has quite a sprint on him but his 66kg (145 pounds US), 1.90m (6'2) frame allows him to go uphill really fast and he also possesses a solid time trial. I'm just glad to see him get his opportunity.
Photos from kritskiy.com