Kim Kirchen left the best team of 2009, Columbia, to join the Russian Katuysha outfit for 2010. The climbing-oriented Kirchen will be one of Katuysha's strongest riders in 2010, but whether he'll focus on the grand ours or the classics has yet to be decided.
Kirchen is a huge cycling talent, capable of dropping the world's best riders in the hilly classics and staying in contention against the best stage racers in the world at the grand tours. A polite, humble personality, Kirchen is often forgotten as a favorite due to his calm demeanor. Riding for Columbia in 2009, Kirchen experienced early season crashes and bad luck throughout the year, and was overshadowed by other riders on the Columbia team.
At Katuysha, all that will change for the Luxembourgian. He'll join an established Pro Tour squad that has several talented riders. Serguei Ivanov will again focus on one day racing next season, while Robbie McEwen will hope to come back from a terrible injury in 2009. Vlad Karpets will be the team's stage racing rider. Kirchen meanwhile, capable of both one day and stage race victories, will likely have to find his place within the team structure as the early season unfolds.
Unlike at Columbia where Mark Cavendish was the undisputed leader at many of the races, Katuysha will likely provide Kirchen with more options for victory throughout the season. Shorter stage races like Paris-Nice, the Tour de Swiss and perhaps even the Tour of California could end up being races where Kirchen is asked to lead the Russian team.
In the one day hilly classics, Kirchen will probably be designated as a co-leader alongside Ivanov for many of the biggest one day races. Ivanov, as a Russian, will probably be given every chance to defend his Amstel Gold title from 2009, while Kirchen will probably be looked to at the Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege classics. By the time April is over, Kirchen could have both a shorter stage race and a classic under his belt heading into the grand tour season.
Kirchen is unproven at the grand tour level as a GC contender. He has ridden well at the Tour de France, but has been unable to put it all together in any given year. He seems to struggle at least one day in the high mountains, which tends to kill his GC hopes. But with a strong team built around him, perhaps that could change for 2010.
Kim Kirchen is a rider's rider. That is, he lets his legs do the talking and never has a bad word to say about other riders. He is a hard working team player willing to play a domestique role when the situation requires it, and doesn't shy away from shouldering team leadership for races suited to his skills. He interacts positively with fans and always seems t0 have time for an interview or photo shoot with the media. Hopefully 2010 will see Kirchen return to form throughout the year for his new Katuysha team.