Bjarne Riis and his business partner Lars Seier Christensen have confirmed they plan to have a WorldTour team in the 2017 season but did not present a title sponsor and refused to say if they will work with the Bahrain Cycling Team that was announced at the weekend by Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain.
At a highly anticipated press conference in Copenhagen, Riis, the former owner and manager of the Tinkoff team, and Christensen, CEO of former sponsor Saxo Bank, first talked at length about a plan to create a Riis/Seier holding company and invest five million Euro in several different projects. The company will develop different businesses related to cycling, such as luxury holidays in Riis' villa in Lucca, a nutrition training App, stationary bikes, an athlete testing centre, cycling academies, product development and merchandising, and even a virtual reality training project.
A graphic explained the business plan but highlighted that external investors are needed to develop each part of the plan. A WorldTour team is indicated as just one branch of the Riis/Seier project.
Riis was apparently close to reaching a deal to manage the Bahrain Cycling Team but as Cyclingnews reported on Wednesday, he is facing competition from other team managers. Vincenzo Nibali has been linked to the Bahrain Cycling Team after his agent Alex Carera was contacted by the prince and Nibali went for a ride with him last February before the Dubai Tour.
Riis refused to talk specifically about links to the Bahrain Cycling Team and admitted the WorldTour team project could slip a year and only begin in 2018.
"We are currently working on to find out how a WorldTour team should be best created. There are several options," Riis said, according to Ekstrabladet.dk.
"I feel ready to return to the sport. I have the desire and I have the motivation but it shouldn't be at any price. It must be innovative and exciting and also interesting even commercially.
"A great team must be built up in the right way. With this concept and the background it is the right model to do it. We've talked with many different stakeholders but cannot comment on it today.
"We are in the midst of a series of negotiations, which should mean we can field a team that can join the sport at a high level. We can live with it starting in 2018. It’s important the foundations are good."
A place in professional cycling?
Riis admitted to doping in 2007 and offered to give back the Tour de France yellow jersey he won in 1996. Last year, after a long investigation by Anti-Doping Denmark, he also admitted that he failed to do enough to stop doping in the teams he has managed.
The ADD report reveals that Riis spoke at length and admitted to knowing that Hamilton was working with Dr. Fuentes for blood doping treatment and that he did not act to stop it. Riis also confessed to blood doping during his own career – something he had never revealed previously, and so had personal knowledge about blood doping practices. He only avoided sanctions due to an eight-year statute of limitation rule in force at the time.
When asked during the press conference if he deserved a place in the sport as a team manager in 2017, Riis said he believes that he has done some good things for the sport, including instigating the biological passport thanks to an internal testing system he created while managing the CSC team.
"I believe that I can help to create a good and positive cycling. I feel I still have much to contribute," Riis said.