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A Joker Bianchi rider signs in for stage 1.
Joker-Merida looks to move up the ladder
The Norwegian Continental team Joker-Merida team has major plans for the future with the Tour de France as its ultimate goal. The team directeur sportif Gino Van Oudenhove said he envisions a team built around Edvald Boasson Hagen, with Norwegians making up half the team.
The team is growing from six to twelve riders, with Merida replacing Bianchi as bike and co-sponsor. The team has served as a launch pad for a number of riders now in the ProTour, with Boasson Hagen being the best-known.
Interest in cycling in Norway has grown even further following Thor Hushovd's victory at the world championship in Australia. The Norwegian cycling federation has also indicated interest in hosting the 2016 world championships.
“We need a sponsor to offer at least 25 million Kroner (3.35 million Euro), and we should build the team around a future man like Edvald Boasson Hagen. The team should consist of 30 riders, of which at least half of them Norwegians,” Van Oudenhove said, according to the NTB news agency.
“A rider like Edvald Boasson Hagen would have been number one in the world if there was a team built around him - like Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong and Tom Boonen have had,"he added.
The plans for the team are long-term, with the first step obtaining Professional Continental status. Van Oudenhove sees the project taking between three and five years.
Stian Steen-Olsen, representing sponsor Merida, said that there are two criteria which must be met: “First, one must believe that it is possible.”
From there, “You must have cyclists who are good enough. Joker Merida has fostered such riders as Edvald Boasson Hagen and Norway already has world champion Thor Hushovd. We know that the Merida bikes are good enough.”
“When it lacks only a few dollars,” Steen-Olsen said. “I say 'only' because I think the money is there.”