Could Bjarne Riis step in and help save the Cult Energy Pro Cycling team? The Danish Professional Continental team’s current sponsorship deal ends this year and the team confirmed to Cyclingnews that they have talked to Bjarne Riis about the future, as they try to find funding for 2016.
Riis, who was let go by Oleg Tinkov in April after a disappointing start to the season at Tinkoff-Saxo, is rumoured to be interested in coming back to the sport.
Riis, of course, made headlines last month when he was implicated in the Danish Anti-Doping report with testimony from several former riders that he was well aware of doping going on in the teams he managed with allegations that he even encouraged it. The statute of limitations halted any possibility of charges being drawn up against Riis and so he avoided a possible ban from working in professional cycling. He is currently working for Danish television channel TV2 as a technical commentator.
Reports in the Danish press have also suggested that Saxo Bank, who have had a long relationship with Riis, are also willing to back a project if Riis is involved. Saxo Bank’s current deal with Tinkov expires at the end of the year and as yet, there has been no confirmation that they will re-new for the future. The team's 2015 roster includes Danish riders Rasmus Christian Quaade and Rasmus Guldhammer, Britain's Russell Downing and German riders Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegmann.
“At the moment we’re working very hard to have a team for next year,” Cult’s sporting Michael Skelde told Cyclingnews.
“We’re a little bit under pressure but we’re working on different solutions but it’s hard to say if team will continue. We’re also working on a worst-case scenario with the team being Continental. It’s down to more than just money. We need a co-sponsor to continue as a ProContinental team.”
The team’s press officer Allan Jørgensen, who worked with Riis for several years at Saxo Bank, confirmed that the Cult management had “talked with Riis briefly but that’s it for now”
Those talks, Jørgensen said, took place several weeks ago and was discussion regarding “how the team was doing” rather than over a potential partnership but the speculation in Denmark is that Riis brings with him a vast amount of contacts and power when it comes to attracting potential sponsors.
“We explained our situation to him and we’ve not heard from him since. We didn’t ask him for anything we just explained but we have to be pretty open in this situation if he can help us and support us, then we have to be open to that,” Jørgensen told Cyclingnews.
“Bjarne has been in the sport for many year so he knows potential sponsors and riders. His network is very big. If he can get us with sponsor or set up meetings that would be amazing.”
Skelde would not confirm if he had met with Riis but added that, “I can’t confirm that we’ve talked to Bjarne. I can only confirm that we’re trying to work on every possibility that’s there. Cult are keen on having a ProContinental team next year and they’re happy with the exposure they’ve had but at the moment it’s not enough to run a ProContinental team.”
However Skelde did confirm that he and Cult had not held any discussions or opened a dialogue with Saxo Bank.
There have been no discussions with Saxo. Everyone asks if I’ve called them but I wouldn’t contact a sponsor who has an obligation with another team. That could be different if the situation changes. I know Saxo don’t have a deal yet but I still see them as part of the Tinkoff team until they come out and say otherwise.”
“I would like to talk to Bjarne but for me I can’t say who we would like to work with. We’re keen on having a ProContinental team but we’re not in a position right now to make a decision on who we can work with but we’re open minded.”
When asked about Riis’ past Skelde said: “I’d like the opportunity to talk and then make a decision. I’m not saying I’m against anything. We’ll look through every possibility that comes up. I’ll do that together with Cult, as I’m not the only one who makes a decision. We’re doing everything we can to keep our team. A lot of people have interest in our team.”
For now the future of Skelde’s team is uncertain. Riis’s involvement is just one solution.