Bike manufacturer Merida has joined forces with the Bahrain cycling project to create the Bahrain-Merida Pro Cycling Team. Lampre-Merida manager Brent Copeland will manage the team next season with Vincenzo Nibali widely expected to be the team’s general classification leader.
There has been much speculation as to whether or not the team backed by the Bahrain royal family would go ahead. Proposed announcements regarding the team’s future had been postponed, leading to speculation that the team might not be ready for the 2017 season. However, news last week that the Kingdom of Bahrain has officially lent its support to the project put this to bed.
The Bahrain project has been linked with the Lampre-Merida team in the past and, with Merida now on-board, it is expected that several of the Italian team’s riders will move across. South African Louis Meintjes is believed to be one of those, as is Diego Ulissi. However, the team is yet to make any official announcements on rider signings.
“Today we become the Bahrain-Merida Pro Cycling Team,” Copeland said in a press release on Monday. “The expertise that a distinguished brand such as Merida presents to the world of cycling will contribute significantly towards the Bahrain Cycling Team reaching its ambition to become a globally recognised team.”
Since the project was announced in May, human rights organisations Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) have raised concerns about its backers in a letter sent to the UCI.
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa hopes to use the team to develop cycling in Bahrain. It is believed that the team will apply for WorldTour status but that is yet to be confirmed.