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Andy and Fränk Schleck have confirmed that they will ride for the new Luxembourg-based team in 2011 and team manager Brian Nygaard has told Cyclingnews that the team is on schedule to become a major ProTour squad for the 2011 season.
The team, which has yet to announce its title sponsor, riders or reveal its budget, is currently applying for a UCI ProTour license. According to Nygaard the process is moving in the right direction, with over half the team already under contract.
The UCI’s ProTour licence commission is set to announce any new ProTour teams for 2011 in the coming weeks. The ProTour licence commission operates independently from the UCI and is responsible for issuing licences and bases its assessment on three criteria: sporting, ethical and financial structures.
“The project is well underway and everything is going as planned,” Nygaard told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview.
“We’re lining everything up so that we’re a ProTour team for next year and racing at the highest level. It’s a big process but that’s as it should be. You need to have things in order. In due time we’ll have a big press conference where will give out all the details.”
“But first we have to meet the criteria and show the UCI our contracts. Then it’s up to them. If you want to be at the highest level in any sport you have to show the right contracts, material, insurances and bank guarantees but I’m very comfortable that they’ll all be in place.”
The New Big Team
Although Nygaard would not commit to which riders had been signed, both Fränk and Andy Schleck are set to ride for the team of their home country. They both parted ways with Saxo Bank earlier this month and today announced via Twitter that they would be part of a home-based team in 2011.
Andy Schleck tweeted: "Next year, we will be part of an amazing project based in our home country. It will be The New Big Team in professional cycling. More news to follow in the coming month."
The Schlecks are expected to be joined by Jakob Fuglsang, Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady who have also announced they are leaving Saxo Bank.
Before these reassurances, there had been rumours in some parts of the press that the team would not be ready in time for next season. l‘Equipe speculated in July that both the Schlecks had contracts in place with RadioShack should the Luxembourg team fail to get off the ground. However Nygaard wanted to quash any rumours that the team would not be racing next year.
“To have a ProTour team you need a very serious investment. It’s not just about setting up the structure with the riders but getting the right staff and getting everything in place,” Nygaard told Cyclingnews.
“We’re aiming at around 25 or 26 riders and we’ve signed more than half that number already. We’ll have a team that’s competitive for the Classics and the Grand Tours. We’re signing riders, we’re signing staff and we’ll make an announcement in due time.”
“As for the overall image of the team, we will be a predominately young team and one that’s both humble and ambitious. You have to be ambitious because of the young element but also humble as there will be lots to learn."
Openness, integrity and transparency
The new team will mark a step for Nygaard on a professional level too. The Dane worked as the chief press officer for Bjarne Riis for a number of years, before carrying out the same duties for Dave Brailsford at Team Sky this year. Both Riis and Brailsford are two of the most dedicated team bosses in the peloton, both with a minute attention to detail, a quality that Nygaard will hope to have picked up.
“I would never compare myself to people with the skill and the passion of Bjarne Riis and Dave Brailsford. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the most ambitious people in the sport."
“One key thing I’ve learnt over the years is that communication is important with the riders, the sponsors and the media. You also have to accept openness, integrity and transparency on a bike team. They’re key to staying in cycling. You have to understand it’s not just about racing and winning, it’s about interacting with the public, the fans and the media and making sure the riders and everyone on team is well aware of that.”
Nygaard was part of the CSC team when Ivan Basso left the team in disgrace after being implicated in Operacion Puerto and accused of working with Eufemiano Fuentes.
Later Fränk Schleck was also linked to Fuentes after making a payment of 7,000 Euros to the Spanish doctor. Schleck was briefly suspended by the team but claimed that he made the payment for training advice. He later offered DNA samples to clear his name of any wrongdoing.
“The whole ethical set up is key for me,” Nygaard said. “If you look back at cycling, at least since I’ve been in it, the ethics are something that you just can’t get wrong. Cycling is in a different place than where it was a couple of years ago. You can look at the biological passport for example, but you need to do more. You need to do everything you can and the ethical structure of the team has to be a priority. I’m very supportive of initiatives like the passport. It’s such an intelligent tool. Cycling is in a better place now and I’m very reliant on the passport.”
Nygaard has already used the biological passport as a tool to screen riders, using experts to determine where a rider is safe to sign or should be passed over.
“When it comes to signing rider we’ve looked at their passport data and that goes for every single one. People at the highest possible level look at that data for us but it’s key when hiring riders that we go through that process. It doesn’t give you an insurance policy but it gives you a really good indication. As a new team you don’t even want to go near anything something that’s a grey area.”
“You look at rider’s past and how they’ve behaved too. The most important thing when you hire someone is that you trust them.”
If the team is successful in its quest for a ProTour license their first race would be at the Tour Down Under in January.
“It’s been a really interesting journey over the last few months and so many things have fallen into place. The thing that would make me most happy is if the riders start out with great kit and looking good on fantastic bikes. Kim and I will measure our success on if the riders are happy,” Nygaard concluded.