Katusha ready to step up with Freire, Menchov

Holzer: 'With riders like Menchov and Freire, we are obliged to win'

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Riders and staff flew to snowbound Moscow this week to introduce a transformed Katusha lineup that team bosses hope will heat up the roads this season.

New arrivals Denis Menchov and Oscar Freire posed in front of the Kremlin on Monday as the Russian-backed squad enters its fourth season with goals of shining in the grand tours and classics.

“We have a lot of possibilities to achieve big results with this team,” said new team manager Hans Michael Holzer. “With riders like Menchov and Freire, we are obliged to win.”

Menchov, a two-time Vuelta winner, and Freire, a three-time world champion, bring added star-power to Katusha that, at least up to now, has delivered the kind of results that do not square up with the size of the team’s budget, estimated to be $15 million per year.

Menchov, who raced last year with the ill-fated Geox-TMC and missed out on the Tour, says the French grand tour will be his top goal for 2012. With nearly logged 100km in time trials, the 2010 third-place finisher should not be counted out.

“I am optimistic going into this season,” Menchov said. “The principal objective this year will be the Tour. I am aware of my capabilities and I think the Tour route is a good one for me.”

Freire, meanwhile, has said that the 2012 season will be his last. He got his season off to a positive start, taking a stage win at the Tour Down Under. His early season goals include going for a third Milan-San Remo title as well as building for the Tour and Olympic Games.

Behind Menchov, Spanish climber Joaquim Rodriguez will be looking to continue his solid performances of the past two seasons.

With the arrival of Menchov, Rodriguez will skip the Tour and instead focus on the Giro and Vuelta.

“Having Denis on the team is better for me, because he can help carry the load,” Rodriguez told VeloNews.com at the Vuelta presentation last month. “I still believe I can win a grand tour. If I can not have that one bad day and improve in the time trials, I think I can make up the differences in the mountains. Both the Giro and Vuelta look good for me.”

Katusha has done its fair share of house-cleaning, sending away 13 riders, including such names as Filippo Pozzato, Leif Hoste, Danilo Di Luca, Vladimir Karpets, Serguei Ivanov and Aleksandr Kolobnev, who is fending off doping allegations.

Twelve new riders join for 2012. In addition to Menchov and Freire, Angel Vicioso, who won a Giro stage last year, Gatis Smukulis, who won a stage at the Volta a Catalunya last year, and Xavier Florencio are among the top names.

Katusha has big hopes for big Russian sprinter Denis Galimzyanov, who is poised for a breakout season after winning four races in 2011, including Paris-Bruxelles and second in GP Scheldeprjis.

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