Bjarne Riis: My return to cycling has to be right for me

Bjarne Riis has told Cyclingnews that he plans to return to cycling with a professional team but that the opportunity must the right for him, and that simply buying back his old team from Oleg Tinkov is not on the cards.

The Dane, and former owner of the Tinkoff squad, confirmed that he has talked to several parties about managing a team, including Dimension Data last year, and the new Bahrain project that is set for lift off in 2017, but that only the 'right structure' would entice him.

"I've talked to different teams but right now I don't see the right one for me," Riis told Cyclingnews from his home in Lugano.

Riis and his business partner, former Saxo Bank CEO Lars Seier Christensen, announced in February that they were attempting to build a project for the future and Riis added that they were working at apace.

"It has to be right though," he stressed. "That's why Lars and I have looked at creating our own team for either now or later."

In one sense, Riis could move quickly and return to running a team with a number of options currently on the table. Tinkoff are set to end this year, while the 2017 Bahrain project was also a possibility at one point.

"We would like to jump on the train right now because there are options in terms of riders and everything but if the money is not there then it's just too unhealthy.

"There's too much talking. What's annoying for me is the talk about Dimension Data from last year. Again they didn't say no to me, it was the opposite. I closed the discussion.

"There are a lot of rumours out there. There could be possibilities but I'm looking at finding the right project for me. I have been asked by different places to join but I don't need to be there. I'd like to be involved because I know that I have a lot to give and I have ideas on how to run a set up but like I said, it has to be the right one. I never talked to IAM but Bahrain, I was involved in but I don't really see that structure as the right one for me. I think that the project is good but I'd hesitate there."

The Bahrain project is set to go ahead without Riis and there have been several reports in recent months linking Riis with his old squad at Tinkoff. He was relieved of his duties at the team just over a year ago but previously owned the team outright before selling it to its current owner Oleg Tinkov.

Despite the speculation, Riis would be currently unwilling to make a move for the squad, even if Tinkov would be open to selling it back to him.

"I have nothing to do with these guys. Rumours are rumours and apparently I'm buying the team back but again I don't have a problem with structuring a new team. I would have the people very easily and I know what to do. I don't need to buy that team back, and if I did I'd still need a sponsor. People might think that buying back that team would be the easiest thing, and that's true, because a big part of the team I built it up over 15 years but you still need a sponsor. Let's say I buy that team, who is going to pay for it?"

For Riis, the entire premise of running a team centers around its structure and his plans to expand his cycling business and portfolio into the lifestyle market. A WorldTour team would be 'part of the circle' within his business plans.

"The cycling community is growing and there's huge potential there with a massive market. It's not just about pro cycling but a level around people seeking a lifestyle - people who are busy, who don't have a huge amount of time but want to be healthy and want to do sport. They might have an hour to train and they need to be efficient and we want to jump into this and create these training programmes and these nutrition plans. We want to create a whole package and that's where a pro team can have a huge impact. It's like a circle."

The current structure within cycling has been criticized by many for its 'short-termism' and lack of return on investment for sponsors and teams. Tinkov, who bought his current team from Riis, raised such concerns when he decided that 2016 would be his final season.

"You see bike manufactures jumping more into the sport lately but to be honest, and if you ask them, it's too much money that they need to invest. If you're a bike manufacturer and you have your own team then it's very expensive. Take a team like BMC, they don't have a main sponsor or a bike sponsor. It's pretty expensive when you do it like that. It needs another structure.

"Sponsors would always be part of our project it but the structure would be so strong and healthy that you'd not have this need that many teams have today to find sponsors. I think that building up a structure like this will help change cycling for the future."

With time running out for 2017, Riis is not concerned about jumping at the first chance that comes his way. There maybe some enticing projects out there that he can hitch his wagon to, and with roughly 100 riders on transfer market, no end to the possibly athletes he could work with but, again, the opportunity must be right.

"It can come quickly but it's not a must for me or Lars that we have a team for next year but not for any cost. It has to be reasonable in terms of structure and budget. It has to make sense. It's a business and if it doesn't make sense then we'll wait."

Who knows, Riis could still link up with his former rider Alberto Contador, who is out of contract for next season and still looking at his own options.

"I would love to. I'm watching him and all these guys. I'm watching a lot of television and I'd love to work with Alberto. He's an amazing bike rider and he still has huge potential. If anyone can beat Froome it's him."

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