Just days after team manager Bjarne Riis said it was "unrealistic" that the NTT Pro Cycling team can be saved, team principal Doug Ryder has revealed they are "very close to being on the road next year".
The South African team, formerly known as MTN-Qhubeka and Dimension Data, was plunged into crisis in September when the Japanese tech company NTT decided to end its backing.
An urgent search for a new sponsor was launched and, despite the claims from Riis, who joined the team this year, it seems it has now borne fruit, with an announcement expected in the next couple of days.
"It has been a good year on the bike. Sadly, it has not been so good from a sponsorship point of view in terms of our future, but we are piecing that puzzle together," Ryder said in a press release from the team.
"When we announced that we needed a new partner, the response has been unbelievable from all over the world. Our social media presence has been incredible in terms of people just trying to support us.
"We have people from America to Australia and everything in between loving this team and wanting to get involved, trying to make a difference, and trying to connect with us. It is tough in the world today economically, and some businesses are really struggling, and some aren’t. But we are very close to being on the road next year."
Ryder confirmed that the team will not appear on the list of teams registering for 2021 as the UCI holds a congress meeting on Thursday. However, teams can still register after the deadline, albeit incurring an extra fee, and Ryder all-but confirmed the team will be on the road next year.
Ryder did not say if the team will stay at WorldTour level or drop down to ProTeam level.
"This Thursday is an announcement of the teams which have submitted their documentation, and we will not be on that list. In the next couple of days, I think we should be able to say that we will have a plan to move forwards into 2021."
Ryder’s comments come in the same week that Riis seemingly put a nail in the coffin of the team he joined at the start of this year.
It was initially suggested his company Virtu Cycling, which he runs with Lars Seier Christensen and Jan Bech Andersen, would take a third of the ownership of the team, but Danish media reported in September that the process didn’t go through and that Ryder remains the full owner.
“As it looks right now, there is not a team with me at the helm next year. That's the situation. We do not have a sponsor on hand right now and it is getting late so it does not look too good," Riis told the Ekstra Bladet newspaper this week.
"I do not know now [if I sound pessimistic]. I just sound realistic, right? The situation is as it is and there is nothing I can do about it." Asked if it was realistic that a new sponsor could be found to keep the team afloat, he said: "No, not really.”
It is unclear if and how Riis fits into Ryder’s plans for 2021. In the Ekstra Bladet interview, he reiterated his desire to be in charge of a team with a Danish identity but, despite a Copenhagen Grand Départ for the Tour de France, which has now been postponed to 2022 from next year, he has been unable to find a sponsor in his home country, and insisted Seier should not be expected to finance the project personally.
The current NTT Pro Cycling team is still registered in South Africa and retains a commitment to the Qhubeka charity, which aims to change live through the provision of bicycles in Africa.
The team have eight riders under contract for next year, including Domenico Pozzovivo and Victor Campenaerts, who this week expressed his concern over a lack of options anywhere else for 2021. Some riders have already made plans elsewhere, including Ben O’Connor, who won a stage of the recent Giro d’Italia.
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