Bjarne Riis has told a Danish television channel that rumours in the French press that he's interested in buying the Swiss Katusha-Alpecin WorldTour team are "new to me".
L'Equipe reported on Tuesday that the former Tinkoff and CSC manager was looking for a way back into the UCI WorldTour by purchasing Katusha from Russian owner Igor Makarov. The French newspaper also suggested that Riis had shown interest in buying Patrick Lefevere's shares in the Deceuninck-QuickStep team – home to the likes of Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel – which was also batted away by Lefevere on social media.
Riis, who won the 1996 Tour de France – and officially still holds the Tour title, despite admitting in 2007 that he doped to win that year's race – currently owns and runs the men's UCI Continental squad Team Waoo and women's outfit Team Virtu Cycling, although the latter may fold at the end of this season if Riis is unable to find a new sponsor for it.
He sold his WorldTour team Saxo-Tinkoff to Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov – owner of co-sponsor Tinkoff Bank – at the end of 2013, but Riis continued to run what became Tinkoff-Saxo in 2014, under Tinkov's ownership. In March 2015, however, it was reported that Riis and Tinkov had parted ways, although the team continued as Tinkoff until the end of the 2016 season, when it was disbanded.
Cyclingnews reported last month that Katusha-Alpecin were unable to offer their riders contract extensions into 2020 due to co-sponsor Alpecin being set to leave at the end of the year. Team owner Makarov may fund the team himself next season, to honour the contracts of those riders who already have contracts with the squad for 2020, but star rider Ilnur Zakarin has already told the team that he is leaving at the end of this season, according to Katusha-Alpecin general manager Jose Azevedo.
When contacted by Danish television channel TV2 Sport regarding the L'Equipe rumours of his interest in Katusha, Riis replied via text message: "There's no point talking about such rumours. The Katusha story is new to me."
In turn, Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Lefevere responded to the L'Equipe report that Riis had also been in touch with him by tweeting on Tuesday: "I'm very aware of the fact there is very little news in cycling today, but I have 20 per cent of the shares in the Deceuninck-QuickStep team. How can I sell the team? Stop this nonsense L'Equipe. [It shows a] lack of respect to [team owner] Mr Zdenek Bakala."
In the same report, L'Equipe also suggested that Riis' fellow Dane, Jakob Fuglsang – winner of this year's Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of him crashing out of the Tour de France – might follow his compatriot should the 55-year-old secure a management role in a WorldTour team for next season.
Fuglsang rode for Riis at his Saxo Bank team during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The 34-year-old is out of contract with Kazakh WorldTour team Astana at the end of this season, and has yet to announce his destination for 2020.
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