Cyclingnews understands that the Project TJ Sport team – known as Lampre-Merida in 2016 – has been saved from possible collapse and is set to secure a place in the 2017 WorldTour after new sponsors were found to cover a shortfall left by the team's original Chinese backers.
On November 25 the UCI awarded 17 WorldTour licences to leading teams but said the TJ Sport team was still under review by the UCI Licence Commission. The TJ Sport team told Cyclingnews it had requested extra time to complete its application after a key person in the project fell ill, creating a delay in obtaining important documents from China.
In early December the team cancelled a training camp and reports emerged that team manager Giuseppe Saronni and coordinator Mauro Gianetti were struggling to secure funding from China despite promise of massive investment during a lavish press conference in late August. That left the team's roster and staff worried about their future. The team was facing a race against time and faced a deadline of December 15 to complete their WorldTour application and registration file.
It seems that enough funding has been secured so that the team's budget, roster and bank guarantee has been approved by the UCI and its independent auditors EY (formerly Ernst & Young).
Cyclingnews understands that bike sponsor Colnago has played a key role in finding new sponsors to keep the team alive.
Several sources have said that funding will come from Abu Dhabi in the Middle East but the names of the investors and sponsors have still be confirmed and the names of the team's title sponsors remain unclear. Abu Dhabi and Dubai both host major races organised by RCS Sport, with neighbouring Bahrain backing the Bahrain-Merida team in 2017 as the area looks to promote itself as a tourist attraction.
Limited WorldTour budget
It seems the new sponsors will ensure the team has a budget of eight or nine million Euro. This is likely to be the lowest of all the WorldTour teams and allow little for extra costs such as training camps and expensive team presentations but should ensure the team obtains WorldTour status and that the riders are paid their agreed salaries.
TJ Sport re-signed Rui Costa, Diego Ulissi and Sacha Modolo after agreeing the deal with its Chinese backers in August. The team also added Ben Swift from Team Sky, Darwin Atapuma from BMC, Andrea Guardini from Astana, Vegard Stake Laengen from IAM Cycling and Marco Marcato from Wanty-Groupe Gobert.
The UCI is expected to make an announcement of the team's status on December 15 and more details may emerge from Saronni and his CGS Cycling management company. The former world champion has refused to comment about the funding problems in China but the team is now more optimistic about its future.
"As we said previously, Saronni and the team's management have been working hard to complete the licence application to ensure that everything in place," a team spokesman told Cyclingnews, refusing to confirm any other details.