The problems continue to mount for Bjarne Riis, who is struggling to secure the future of his ProTour team. In recent days he has learned that two of his top riders are working with one of his (now former) directeurs sportifs to set up their own team, and he has been turned down by a potential new team sponsor.
Riis' difficulties began in January when Saxo Bank announced that it would end its sponsorship at the end of the year. Another problem also emerged for Riis that month, although he was unaware of it at the time. According to the Danish broadcaster TV2 Sporten, that was when Fränk Schleck first started making plans to develop his own team for the 2011 season. His brother Andy is also assumed to have been involved in the planning from the start.
Last week it was announced that DS Kim Andersen was leaving Saxo Bank due to his participation in the planning of the new team. The team manager is to be Brian Nygaard, the former Saxo Bank and Team Sky press spokesman.
The sponsor for the new team, according to the Swiss publication Blick, is to be French retailer Auchan, which runs thousands of hypermarkets, supermarkets and small stores around the world.
Riis is said to have learned of the plan and Andersen's participation in the last few months, with discussions between the two being held during the Tour de Suisse. Riis was apparently only recently made aware that the Schlecks had been involved for so long in the development of the new squad.
“I will now review the case of Fränk Schleck, which means I must have a serious talk with him. When I have had the talk, I will report the consequences,” Riis told TV2 Sporten.
Riis has said that he hoped to announce the team's new sponsor either before or during the Tour de France, which starts this coming Saturday. However, he has had to accept more bad news as two possible sponsors have turned him down. Earlier it was speculated that the US software firm SunGard would be announced during the Amgen Tour of California as the new sponsor. However, that firm has now apparently disappeared from the scene.
Riis was most recently in negotiations with ISS, a Danish firm which is one of the world's largest commercial providers of facility services, ranging from cleaning to warehouse management, but that has also fallen through.
“There is no agreement and there will be no agreement,” ISS communications director Kaspar Bach Habersaat told TV2 Sporten.
The next potential sponsor with whom Riis is negotiating is said to be GN NetCom, a Danish firm which manufactures and sells Jabra brand headsets for telephones and mobile phones.
“We have looked at selected sales and marketing initiatives, including sports sponsorships. But I cannot and will not comment on rumours,” communications director Mikkel Danvold told the Danish broadcaster.
The Schlecks are not the only stars who would be looking for a new team. World time trial champion Fabian Cancellara has a contract through 2011, but would presumably be free to search for a new team if no new sponsor is found.
“First I want to talk to the team. I can wait,” he told the Swiss site Blick.ch. He has been most consistently linked with signing for the US-based BMC Racing Team, sponsored by the Swiss bike manufacturer.
"We want Cancellara – but we can wait,” said BMC team owner Andy Rihs.