The new Bahrain-Merida team will be part of the WorldTour for its debut season in 2017 after the UCI named it among the 17 teams confirmed for cycling’s top flight on Friday. Of the 18 applicants, only the revamped TJ Sport squad’s licence has yet to be confirmed.
"We are very pleased to receive the official notification from the UCI. On behalf of WorldTour team Bahrain-Merida I would like to thank the UCI and president [Brian] Cookson for their decision," general manager Brent Copeland said.
"We are very proud to have put one of the world's top teams together, both with riders as well as with very professional staff and we will not disappoint the UCI WorldTour races or our ever growing fans."
The marquee name on the new team is Vincenzo Nibali, who earlier this week confirmed that the Giro d’Italia will be his principal objective of the 2017 season. WorldTour status gives Bahrain-Merida automatic entry to all three of the Grand Tours and all of the Monument Classics. The WorldTour series expands from 27 to 37 events in 2017, though teams are not obliged to ride all 10 of the newly-added races.
Nibali will be joined on his new team by Enrico Gasparotto, Joaquim Rodriguez, Sonny Colbrelli, Jon Izagirre, Giovanni Visconti and Heinrich Haussler. The management staff includes Copeland, Tristan Hoffman, Philippe Mauduit and Paolo Slongo.
"Now the real work starts, where we will continue to invest in expertise, organization and a good image, which will help put our WorldTour team Bahrain-Merida on the map and expose both our partners in a way that will make them proud," Copeland said.
The team’s presence in the 2017 WorldTour was welcomed by its patron, Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain. "We are extremely proud to be joining an exceptional group of cycling professionals and enthusiasts in our pursuit of further reach to the sport of cycling in our region," he said. "The Bahrain-Merida Pro Cycling Team will also showcase the Kingdom of Bahrain on the global stage, by showcasing the Kingdom as a premier destination for both business and tourism."
In June of this year, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) sent a joint letter to UCI President Brian Cookson and called on him to reject Bahrain-Merida’s application for a licence, citing allegations that athletes who participated in the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Bahrain had been subject to torture. Prince Nasser and Bahraini authorities have strongly denied the allegations.