The new Bahrain-Merida cycling team was officially presented on Wednesday, as riders and staff gathered together for the first time at a short camp in Croatia.
Riders stood up one-by-one in a conference room of a hotel on the country's west coast as they were introduced in front of the media – like a couple of days previously when they were made to stand up and introduce themselves to their new colleagues.
Vincenzo Nibali, the team's marquee signing, had to wait his turn after those who came before him in the alphabet – with the exception of the riders signed from Lampre-Merida, who could not attend due to contractual politics.
The three Merida bikes that will be used next season were unveiled and the team confirmed their attendance – and that of Nibali – at next year's Tour of Croatia, but otherwise there were no big announcements. Rather, it was an opportunity to officialise things and present a set-up that – after months of logistical work and recruitment – finally resembles an elite cycling team.
"What we've put together in a few months has been incredible," said General Manager Brent Copeland, later telling Cyclingnews that, "It's actually pretty emotional to get to this point, where you physically do the presentation.
"You can say, 'Here we are today'. You get so wrapped up in organising everything – it's just months of work – and suddenly you get to today. We've still got a lot to do, but it's a big emotion."
Copeland also outlined the ambitions of the team, which has a three-year commitment from its backers and thus time to develop the project. They already have a huge star in Nibali, who will be a top contender in whichever Grand Tour he confirms as his target for next year, but Copeland maintained that victories are not the be all and end all in the debut campaign.
"Our ambition is not immediately results," he said. "A good image and good organisation is fundamental for any new team or project, in any sport. Without these two elements, the team cannot work. If you work on those two elements, the results come as a consequence. That's our primary goal."
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the member of the Bahrain royal family and founder of the team, was not in attendance, but Copeland stressed the influence of the Arab country, and stated his desire to bring a Bahraini rider to the team, likening the cause to that of the African Dimension Data set-up.
"The general goal is to put Bahrain on the map, in terms of tourism and social responsibility," he said. "We want to show people in Bahrain what a healthy lifestyle is like, get the youngsters cycling, and through this we will be on the search for a Bahraini cyclist. What MTN and Dimension Data have done with African cycling, to bring people from a non cycling culture and getting them racing and getting results is hugely satisfying."
Training camps represent a chance for new riders to get to know their teammates, but the Bahrain-Merida team has come to Croatia starting from scratch, each and everyone being thrown into the unknown.
There’s quite a striking mix of riders on the team, with 11 different nationalities, different riding styles, and people at different stages of their careers - though there seem to be pockets emerging, like the Spanish contingent with the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez and Ion Izaguirre or the Italians with Nibali, his brother Antonio, and old friend and former teammate Valerio Agnoli. In any case, the ice-breaking process has begun through games of football and basketball.
"We expected a bit of coldness or distance," said Copeland, "but the environment has been fantastic from day one. It's a huge mix but they've mingled so well from the first day."
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