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Bjarne Riis set to take co-ownership of NTT Pro Cycling team

Bjarne Riis
Bjarne Riis (Image credit: Getty Images)

Bjarne Riis will reportedly announce that his Virtu Cycling Group company will become co-owners of the WorldTour team NTT Pro Cycling (formerly Dimension Data), marking the Dane's return to the men's WorldTour and significant change at the African team. 

According to the Danish news outlet B.T., Riis is expected to make the announcement during a press conference on Wednesday at Hotel D'Angleterre in Copenhagen.

B.T. reported that Virtu Cycling Group's co-ownership of NTT Pro Cycling will be shared with the team's current owner Douglas Ryder. Riis currently owns a third of the company Virtu Cycling Group that is also co-owned by chairman Lars Seier Christensen along with chairman of the Danish football club Brøndby IF, Jan Bech Andersen.

Danish media have suggested that Virtu Cycling Group was ready to become co-owner of the team last year but negotiations stumbled. It also reported that Velux, a Danish manufacturing company that specialises in windows and skylights, has shown interest in partnering with Riis as a key sponsor ahead of the 2021 Tour de France that is set to start in Copenhagen.

Riis is a controversial figure in professional cycling. He was once hailed as Denmark's highest-profile sports figure before he later admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during is career and particularly when he won the 1996 Tour de France.

He went on to manage versions of the WorldTour teams CSC, Saxo Bank and then Tinkoff-Saxo from 1999 through 2015. Riis departed from the team after his working relationship soured with the team's financial backer and owner Oleg Tinkov.

In 2016 Riis took over the Danish Continental men's outfit TreFor and renamed it Team Virtu Pro–Véloconcept intended to be a feeder team to an eventual WorldTour outfit. 

He created a women's programme from the former BMS Birn team. Despite the success of the Team Virtu Cycling Women, which won Tour of Flanders with Marta Bastianelli last year, Riis announced that he was forced to end the programme due to lack of sponsorship. Bastianelli, who was under a two-year contract with Riis' team, was forced to search for a new team and ended up re-joining her former outfit Ale BTC Ljubljana for 2020.

The men's program, currently operating as Team Waoo at the Continental level, will continue in 2020.

Riis and his partners at Virtu Cycling Group have a stated goal of bringing a WorldTour team to Denmark. Last August, the French media reported that Riis was interested in purchasing Patrick Lefevere's shares of Deceuninck-QuickStep. That followed by reports that Riis could buy Katusha from Russian owner Igor Makarov. Riis played down those reports saying that such rumours were "new to me".

In a post on social media this month, and as reported in B.T., Seier wrote that while it has taken longer than expected, it remains a priority to have a team competing at the Tour de France in 2021.

"I admit that it has taken longer than Bjarne Riis and I expected when we started the project in 2016, but it remains our goal to be at the highest level when the Tour starts in Copenhagen in 2021. I think, There is a chance of good news during January, but if not, it will be hard to reach," Seier said.

NTT Pro Cycling revealed a 27-rider roster for 2020 that includes Danish riders Michael Valgren and Andreas Stokbro. The team will also be directed by Riis' former Team CSC riders Lars Bak and Lars Michaelsen. 

Danish news outlet Ekstra Bladet reported that several of the new members of the NTT Pro Cycling staff were hired at the request of Riis in anticipation that he will take over the team. 

Those hires include team doctors Piet de Moor and Piet Daneels, who have both previously held positions at Team Saxo Bank. Other hires who used to work for Riis' teams include soigneurs Lynda Cossard and Steffen Lundsgaard, and mechanic mechanic Alejandro Torralbo.

Mark Cavendish has moved on from NTT Pro Cycling and Steve Cummings has retired. New riders on the roster include Victor Campenaerts, Domenico Pozzovivo and under-23 world champion Samuele Battistella.