Israel Start-Up Nation co-owner Ron Baron did little to dispel rumours of the team trying to sign Chris Froome from Team Ineos in a press conference on Wednesday. Baron said he expects the team's budget to grow in 2021 and said "we are talking to some of the best riders in the world".
The first-year WorldTour team scooped up a number of top riders for the 2020 season after taking over the top-tier licence held by Katusha-Alpecin. They kept Paris-Roubaix runner-up Nils Politt, Rick Zabel and Alex Dowsett on from Katusha, among others, while Dan Martin was signed from UAE Team Emirates and sprinter André Greipel came across after an unsatisfying year with Arkéa-Samsic.
Martin is currently the team's top Grand Tour contender, having cracked the top-10 in the Tour de France three times.
Baron would not be drawn on whether a mid-season acquisition of Chris Froome was ever on the cards - Cyclingnews understands Froome will remain with Ineos through the end of his contract, which expires this year - but hinted that the team will continue to grow and expand next year. The team may not be strong enough to fight for a Tour de France victory this year but that could change in 2021.
"All I can say is many great riders want to come to our team and we would love to have some of them. We are talking to some of the best riders in the world. You'll hear about it when it comes about," Baron said.
Froome, a four-time winner of the Tour de France, was seriously injured in a crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné while previewing the time trial course. He suffered numerous injuries that could have ended his cycling career, but fought back to health and returned to the peloton with an anonymous performance at the UAE Tour.
With Ineos having both defending Tour champion Egan Bernal and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas on the team, there were no guarantees that Froome would be included in this year's Tour squad, leading to friction between the 35-year-old and team management that appears to have been cleared up, at least halting threats of a mid-season move. For 2021, all bets are off.
Team Ineos' budget this year is "significantly larger - almost not in the same playing field" than Israel Start-Up Nation's, but Baron expects his team's funds to grow next year and, with the coronavirus pandemic hitting many sponsors hard - including CCC - there will be a number of top talents on the transfer list.
"A few teams are facing difficulties this year, a few will not make it this year," Baron said. "It's a challenging year, but a challenge is also an opportunity for some other teams like us."
The coronavirus pandemic halted the team's ambitions in March, but the squad had bagged three victories: a stage of the Vuelta a San Juan through Rudy Barbier, a stage of the Tour of Antalya through Mihkel Raim, and Le Samyn through Hugo Hofstetter. They have yet to name a team for the Grand Tours, but Baron said they would be splitting into three distinct 'bubbles' for safety.
"We might be grabbing some of those riders that will be available. We do intend to enhance the team and make it bigger in budget and we are very ambitious in performance. It depends on the sponsors, but I think our budget next year will be significantly enhanced.
"We have one team racing in France, another team that will do the Italian races, and another team doing other races," Baron explained. "We will try to keep the logistical staff - the mechanics, the management and riders - the same guys in every country so that in case there is some COVID-19 issues, they will not mix with each other.
"We hope to have a late but successful racing season but there is a lot of uncertainty as we all know."
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