Joaquim Rodriguez’s bid for the yellow jersey will be backed by a Katusha squad offering support across all disciplines in the 100th Tour de France.
The 34-year-old Spaniard achieved podium finishes in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana last year and will lead the Russian team on just his second Tour appearance, as he bids to add an appearance on the Paris podium to his palmares.
Rodriguez, who also claimed the points classification jersey at last year’s Giro alongside topping the 2012 UCI WorldTour rankings, finished seventh in his only Tour appearance in 2010, picking up a stage win along the way.
He goes into this year’s race, which starts in Corsica on Saturday June 29, in good form and Katusha directeur sportif Valerio Piva believes the team are fully equipped to lead him to success.
“I think we will have the best and strongest roster we could choose,” he said. “We will have Joaquim Rodriguez as leader and our main goal is to fight for general classification with him.
“For this aim, we have strong climbers. Moreover, we also have riders for protecting our leader in the first part of the competition – I expect their work to be crucial, especially in the team time trial and in the breakaways.
“In general, we have to be focussed from the very beginning. The three stages in Corsica will be tough, especially the third, that’s why we went there a little earlier than expected in order to check it.”
Rodriguez will be supported by 31-year-old compatriot Daniel Moreno, who rode alongside him during last year’s successes and finished third behind Chris Froome and Richie Porte (both Team Sky) at the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month.
The climbing specialist, set to be Katusha’s second-in-command, has finished inside the top ten in the last two Vueltas but like Rodriguez has not rode Le Tour since 2010.
A third Spaniard, Alberto Losada, was also a key support rider for Rodriguez in the mountains of the Vuelta and the Giro last year and is included, as is Russian climber Yuri Trofimov.
Offering protection on the tricky Corsican roads will be Russia’s Pavel Brutt, a former stage winner at the Giro d’Italia, and compatriot Eduard Vorganov who finished 19th at the Tour last year.
Former Belarussian champion Alexsandr Kuschynski, 33, and three-time back-to-back Latvian time trial champion Gatis Smukulis, 26, are also included, as is in-form time-trial specialist Alexander Kristoff.
Olympic bronze-medallist Kristoff, who has achieved a string of top-ten finishes around Europe this year, is seen as a key component of Katusha’s team by Piva, who hopes attention to detail will pay off for his team.
“[Kristoff] is in a great shape so I think he can do a good job and also support the team in some stages,” he said.
“Obviously, the third week will be crucial and the most demanding one, but it’s a three-week long competition, so we have to pay attention every day.
“Anyway, we checked all the time trials, we went to see the courses of Pyrenees stages, we tried the Alps during and after the Criterium du Dauphinè, so we will be very prepared and motivated to reach our goals.”
Tour de France 2013 – Katusha