Bjarne Riis has left NTT Pro Cycling as the African WorldTour team fight to secure their future and continue in the sport in 2021.
Riis joined the team at the start of the year, focusing on performance and racing. He was due to buy a 30 per cent stake in the team with business partners Jan Bech Andersen and Lars Seier Christensen but that plan has also fallen through, with Riis now left without a role in the sport.
Japanese technology company NTT announced in September that it will end its sponsorship, threatening the future of the team. Riis recently doubted the team would find a new backer but his words were contradicted by team principal Douglas Ryder, who is trying to keep the team alive.
"It is tough in the world today economically, and some businesses are really struggling, and some aren’t. But we are very close to being on the road next year," Ryder said last week.
Ryder’s team did not appear on the UCI's list of teams registering for 2021 but they can still register after the deadline, albeit incurring an extra fee.
"In the next couple of days, I think we should be able to say that we will have a plan to move forwards into 2021," Ryder said last week, with no other news forthcoming.
Riis admitted to Danish media that he was not aware of a possible new sponsor and admitted he had not recently talked to Ryder. It was a sign their relationship was all but over.
Ryder confirmed Riis' exit in a short statement on Wednesday morning.
"I’d like to thank Bjarne for the experience and leadership that he has brought to our environment, and the contribution he has made. We’d like to wish him all the very best for the future," he said.
Riis was also diplomatic, saying: "To be a part of NTT Pro Cycling during a unique year for all of us has been a great experience.
"I have a lot of respect for the team that Doug has built and want to thank him for the opportunity. I wish him all the best for the future."
NTT Pro Cycling said they continue to fight to secure their future, and that "further updates regarding the sustainability of our team will follow in due course.”
Eight riders, including Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts, are under contract with the team for 2021, while the whole roster and staff had been encouraged to look for work elsewhere from next year. A number of riders have already found places with other teams.
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