Niccolò Bonifazio has signed for the nascent Bahrain Merida team for the 2017 season after reaching an agreement with Trek-Segafredo to rescind his existing contact at the end of the current campaign. The Italian has penned a two-year deal with the new team.
The 22-year-old only joined Trek-Segafredo at the beginning of 2016 after spending the first two seasons of his professional career at Lampre, where he signalled his potential by winning the Coppa Agostoni in 2014 and then placing fifth in his debut Milan-San Remo last year.
Bonifazio is the twelfth signing to be confirmed by the Bahrain Merida team. The squad will be headlined by Vincenzo Nibali, and also features Giovanni Visconti, Enrico Gasparotto, Heinrich Haussler and Kanstantin Siutsou.
"First of all I would like to say thank you both to Team Trek-Segafredo for the willingness to reach an agreement and meet my desire to have the chance to express to the maximum my potential, and Team Bahrain Merida that offers me this great opportunity," Bonifazio said.
"This year has been for me a season of great improvement, during which I could ride all top-level races. Now I look ahead with great enthusiasm for this new adventure. A project built by people that I trusted, that immediately convinced me. I'll try to be my best next two years, to prove my worth and repay the confidence placed in me."
Bonifazio's move to Bahrain Merida reunites him with his former Lampre manager Brent Copeland, who is the general manager of the new project. Copeland offered a withering rebuttal of Bonifazio's complaints about his time at Lampre earlier this year, telling Tuttobici that the team had been "left disappointed from a professional standpoint and, above all, a human one."
Copeland noted that Bonifazio had lacked respect for "roles and rules" on the team. "It almost seemed as if his only interest was in moving to Monte Carlo," he added.
In a statement released by Bahrain Merida on Saturday morning, however, Copeland paid tribute to Bonifazio's qualities as a rider and said that he felt the Italian had matured during his season under the stewardship of Luca Guercilena at Trek.
"Niccolò is still young at only 22 however he has been in the pro peloton for a few years now. I feel he has matured in the last season and will join our team with an open and dedicated mind-set," Copeland said. "I feel if Niccolò is given the space he deserves then his true talent will show, this is something we will go out of our way to do in order to give him the opportunity to show his true value."
Earlier on Saturday morning, Trek-Segafredo had released a brief statement to explain that it had parted company with Bonifazio, releasing him a year early from a contract that was due to expire at the end of 2017. Trek-Segafredo has already signed John Degenkolb and Jarlinson Pantano for 2017, and is also expected to confirm the arrival of Alberto Contador.
"Niccolò has showcased his potential while riding for our team, in particular with his stage victory in the Tour of Poland, and we are satisfied with his performance on our team this year," manager Luca Guercilena said. "He's looking for opportunities to continue his development that we currently cannot offer and we wish Niccolò the best of luck for his future."