Colnago has confirmed it will be the bike sponsor for the new TJ Sport Chinese team that will take over the Lampre-Merida team in 2017. The team finished in the top 16 of the WorldTour rankings and so is set to become the first ever Chinese WorldTour team.
The Italian brand, based in Cambiago near Milan, has ties with team manager Giuseppe Saronni that go back 40 years and decided to return to the WorldTour after a sponsoring the Gazprom Rusvelo Professional Continental team in 2016. Saronni raced on a Colnago for much of his professional career and won his world road race title in Goodwood on a Colnago in 1982.
The brand sponsored the Mapei and Lampre teams for many years before linking up with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau and his Europcar team. Colnago also sponsors the women's Wiggle-High 5 team and cyclocross world champion Wout Van Aert and his Crelan team. The TJ Sport team are expected to use use the Colnago C60 and the new Concept aero bike.
“When Beppe came to visit me, I realized it was time to return to the highest level. I see a special future in this project. He was disappointed that things happened so late because he wanted to sign big-name riders but we’ll have to time to do things right,” Colnago told Gazzetta dello Sport.
The TJ Sport team is expected to reveal a new Chinese title sponsor during the winter as part of a strategy to promote cycling in China led by the Ministry of Sport.
“TJ Sport is a fund created to find resources for the project,” Saronni explained after returning from signing the deal in China in early September. “In 20 days they've gathered 120 million Euro and amongst the brands involved are [online retailer] Alibaba, [clothing brand] J-one, and Wanda Sport (the owners of Ironman triathlon series and Infront the sports media giant interested in professional cycling). There's a fight to become the team's title sponsor.”
Saronni moved quickly to sign new contracts with team leaders Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi and has other riders under contract from Lampre-Merida including Sacha Modolo and South Africa's Louis Meintjes, who impressed at the Tour de France, finishing eighth overall.
New signings include British sprinter Ben Swift, Colombian climber Darwin Atapuma, Andrea Guardini from Astana and Italian Marco Marcato.