Lampre-Merida in talks with Bahrain project

Italian team on the hunt for a GC rider as part of squad revamp

Lampre-Merida are busy plotting their future and while they are set for a considerable revamp in terms of personnel, there may even be structural change, too, as talks have been held with the nascent Bahrain project.

The Italian team's management have confirmed to Cyclingnews and Tuttobicci that they recently sat down with Milan Erzen, one of the men behind the Bahrain project, about a possible amalgamation for 2017.

Erzen, a former rider from Slovenia, has been tasked by the Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa to negotiate on his behalf. Erzen already has close ties with Lampre having worked on contracts for Slovenian riders on the team.

"Milan did come to speak to to myself and [Giuseppe] Saronni [general manager] and he explained his project to us. We sat down and listened to him. That's as far as it's gone so far," Brent Copeland told Cyclingnews.

Erzen is also talking to several other teams, including Tinkoff and bike manufacturer Bianchi.

Whatever comes of those talks, Lampre are thinking about how their roster may shape up next year. Only 14 riders have contracts for 2017, and they do not include team leaders Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) may have been linked with a move after it was reported that the former Tour de France winner met with general manager Giuseppe Saronni, but the reality is that they are looking to strengthen their squad in a number of areas.

The only Italian WorldTour team are in the hunt for a stage race leader – hence their interest in Contador – a Classics rider and potentially another sprinter. Although there is interest in Contador, the Spaniard will have a queue of teams after him, while his future and whether he rides next year will come down to how he fares in the Tour de France.

"There has been contact in the past with him but without going into the details what team wouldn't want Contador? Copeland tells Cyclingnews.

"A team like us looking for a GC rider and him being one of the few without a contract, it would be something of interest for us."

There are number of sticking points in a possible move of this nature. Contador, should he continue, would want to bring several riders and staff with him and, although Lampre have the capacity, there may be question marks over budget.

"We can afford him," says Copeland.

"A lot depends on who we keep on the team. We have two of our top riders out of contract at the end of the year in Rui Costa and Ulissi. We have two really good companies in Lampre and Merida, who understand the importance of a GC rider."

Ulissi is currently have a storming Giro d'Italia, having won a stage and fought with tenacity in the mountains. He is not a GC prospect but the same could well be said of Rui Costa. The former world champion was signed with a tilt at a three-week Tour in mind but has not fulfilled that promise.

Lampre are understood to be open to keeping the Portuguese rider but under the premise that he returns his focus to the one-day and week-long stage races in which he has enjoyed the glut of his success.

"He is a rider of huge quality but with the experience he's had in the last two years at the Tour de France, riding for GC is perhaps not going to be his future. He's a rider who could point towards the Classics. If we could keep a top GC rider and Rui Costa then it would be a perfect world but we would have to look at the budget."

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