Katusha overlooked for Criterium du Dauphiné and Paris-Nice wildcards
Katusha's hopes of being invited to ride at the Tour de France have received a major blow.
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 23/01/13 11:21pm
The Russian team missed out on a 2013 UCI WorldTour licence in December and will consequently have to rely on receiving invites to take part in cycling's most prestigious races in the coming year.
Chief among those is the Tour, which Katusha's star rider, Joaquim Rodriguez, has identified as his primary target for the new season.
However, that now looks unlikely after organisers Amaury Sports Organisation snubbed Katusha in favour of mainly French teams for Paris-Nice and the Dauphine, which they also run.
It heightens speculation that Rodriguez, who finished the 2012 campaign as the world's No 1-ranked rider, could leave to join a licensed team in order to guarantee his participation in the Tour.
Team NetApp-Endura, who have four British riders in their squad, were one of the teams to receive an invite to the Dauphine.
The German outfit missed out on a place in May's Giro d'Italia but now have the consolation of taking to the start line for the key warm-up race before the Tour.
It could offer Britons Russell Downing, Scott Thwaites, Jonathan McEvoy and Erick Rowsell the opportunity to prove themselves against the leading stage-race riders in the world.
NetApp-Endura team manager Ralph Denk said: "Riding the famous Dauphiné is a great honor for us.
"The Dauphiné is decisive in our racing schedule leading up to the summer, because our season goals remain unchanged. We want to compete in a Grand Tour again this year. We will reward the confidence the organisers are placing in the team."
The other invites for the Dauphine, which takes place from June 2-9, have been awarded to French teams Cofidis, Europcar and Bretagne-Seche.
The wildcards for Paris-Nice, which takes place from March 3-10, were given to Cofidis, Sojasun, Europcar and newly formed Swiss team IAM Cycling.