Bjarne Riis returns to cycling Wednesday at the Tour of Denmark with his Team Virtu Pro-Veloconcept team. The squad had previously been registered as Team Trefor but was taken over by Riis and his business partner, Lars Seier, the former CEO of Saxo Bank. Riis left cycling in 2015 when he was dismissed from his role as the general manager of Team Tinkoff, by owner Oleg Tinkov.
Since then Riis has talked to a number of parties, including the Bahrain project about returning to the sport. With Team Virtu Pro-Veloconcept, Riis plans to run a successful Continental team in Denmark, harnessing the best talent from the youth ranks while also promoting his other business interests in cycling.
The long-term goal, he tells Cyclingnews is for Team Virtu Pro-Veloconcept to become a feeder squad for a WorldTour project. According to Riis, the decision to take over an existing Continental squad was made in a short space of time.
“Everything happened quite fast because the team were already up and running. Of course I have connections within Danish cycling and my son is riding there but they contacted me and said that they had a sponsor withdrawing after this year and they asked if there was any interest to go in and help them” Riis told Cyclingnews.
“I talked to Lars and we had a few meetings and then we thought, let's do this. We looked to come in for the rest of this year, and also for the future.”
Riis had told Cyclingnews back in May that he would return to cycling but that the move needed to suit his ambitions. He toyed with the idea of setting up a WorldTour team from scratch but by dipping his toes in the water with an already established – albeit small – team he is looking to lay the groundwork for future development.
“In general for us it makes a lot of sense. If you take our business project for example, it makes a lot of sense. It gives us a good start in Denmark and with the connections that we have it gives us a good set-up. Then of course we want to help the Danish talent come through. We want this team to be our feeder team to the big team we hope to have one day. It all makes a lot of sense.”
Riis has no current ambition to upgrade the licence of Team Virtu Pro-Veloconcept although he will invest in the current build.
“It’s a Continental team at the moment and I think that we’re going to continue at that level but upgrade it a bit. We’ll add a few more riders, make the team a bit stronger and take the budget up a bit. To move it to Pro Continental, I’m not sure.
“It’s a serious project and we want to have that big team with a development team as well. This is a small step towards that. We’re aiming for the WorldTour one day and this is just part of that journey.”