Tao Geoghegan Hart's search to sponsor a rider on the Hagens Berman Axeon team later this year continues, with last year’s Giro d’Italia winner still looking for an athlete to bring to the development team he previously rode for.
In February, the Ineos Grenadiers rider announced plans to fund a slot on Axel Merckx’s development team in order to help increase diversity in cycling.
Both the rider and Merckx have received applications for the slot and the hope is that the rider will start as a stagiaire later this year and then potentially remain on the team in 2022 if they are still age-eligible.
Speaking directly to Cyclingnews from the Baby Giro in Italy, Merckx said that he would catch up with Geoghegan Hart in the coming days and that he and his ex-rider were committed to the project.
"There’s no real update yet. We’re working on it but there’s nothing official to announce. We’re looking at different riders, we’re taking it seriously and this is going to happen for sure. Tao is also getting ready for the Tour but it’s going to come from both of us. We’re having a call in a few days and we’ll take it from there," Merckx said.
"The idea is to give them a stagiaire contract towards the end of the year. That’s the opportunity and it could be anybody. Based on age, then we need to see if he’s eligible to come to the team next year. That’s what we’re aiming for, someone to be a stagiaire, develop in our team, and then later become a pro. We just want to create that opportunity."
Merckx didn’t share the exact number of riders who have applied but he did hint at the fact that the size of the talent pool was a current consideration.
Cycling, both in the U23 and professional ranks, is highly lacking in representation when it comes to BAME riders and, when announcing the plan, Geoghegan Hart stated that it is "a fact" that "cycling has a problem with diversity and inclusivity".
Merckx almost reiterated that sentiment, explaining that in order to build diversity within the sport, grass-roots efforts need to be made by the sport as a whole.
"We’ve had a few, definitely. I can’t say there were hundreds, no, there’s not that many," Merckx said of the applications received so far.
"What cycling has to realise is that it has to start at the base and the base isn’t the U23 level. The base is at 14 or 15 years old, or even younger sometimes, when it comes to trying to attract people onto the bike. When you have a bigger pool of riders, you can go from there. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, it just means that there isn’t the same amount of numbers.
"But we’ll take everything into consideration. We want it to be a long-term project and it’s not something we’re taking it lightly. We want to make the right move and give the opportunity to the right kid so that it’s fair to him. We don’t want to throw someone in if it’s way above their abilities.
"That’s valid with any rider who wants to come to the team because we’re talking about a high-level programme. It’s not a regular U23 programme, and the racing level is high in the second half of the season. We have to be wary of that because we don’t want to overwhelm the rider."
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