Saxo Bank will step up its sponsorship commitment of Bjarne Riis’ team in 2014 to make up the shortfall left by the departure of co-sponsor Tinkoff Bank at the end of this season.
Riis announced the news in a press conference in Madrid on Thursday afternoon, which was also attended by Alberto Contador and Saxo Bank CEO Lars Seier Christensen.
Although the search for a new co-sponsor to replace Tinkoff continues, Riis' announcement means that SaxoBank will remain active in 2014 regardless of that search’s success.
The team are presumably also hoping that the press conference will end the rumours flying around on the internet, ranging from the team folding at the end of 2013 to a last-minute merger with the soon-to-disappear Euskaltel-Euskadi or even a joint venture with Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.
None of these, it turns out, are true, nor - at least for now - were the reports that either Ivan Basso and/or Michele Scarponi will join Team Saxo Bank, as the team will be known in 2014.
Instead Riis and Contador were at pains to point out that in 2014 it will be business as usual for the Danish team. “We are all extremely grateful to Saxo Bank for their support. Saxo Bank has decided to step up its commitment in 2014. and with that help we are able to continue supporting the team,” Riis said.
Contador also spent a good chunk of time clearing the deck of rumours, such as, that he might have been leaving if a new co-sponsor did not arrive.
“I have a great relationship with Bjarne, the best I have ever had with a sports director,” said the Madrileño, who like Riis emphasised his thanks to Saxo Bank for continuing their sponsorship. “This team gives me the best guarantees I can want for 2014.”
With just one win to his name all season, Contador blamed his poor year for “starting out without the base of training I needed and then playing catch-up all year”. He believed that “in 2013 I’ve had a good level, but after a year where I’ve been unable to complete the races in the way I would have liked” - most notably in the Tour where he took second in the Alpine time trial and fourth overall - “I will be making a few changes next year.”
Amongst those changes will be starting the season later than in 2013, where he began racing in the Tour of San Luis in Argentina in January, and the addition of the Vuelta, making for two Grand Tours in a season: “regardless of what kind of route they come up with, I’ll be doing it.”
The Giro, which Contador won in 2008 is not on the cards, but the Tour de France, once again, will be his main target.
Asked whether he could work with Fernando Alonso in the future, Contador responded “in the long term, it’s a possibility. But for now I’m very happy where I am and I have a contract with Saxo Bank for the next two years.”
Riis also denied that there had been any conversations with Samuel Sanchez, currently teamless for 2014, about bringing the 2008 Olympic road-race champion on board next year and Contador confirmed there had been “no negotiations. I would love him to come here though.”
One journalist asked if Team Sky’s Tour de France domination could be broken by Saxo Bank next July. Riis retorted “I wouldn’t say that they had the strongest team this year in the Tour, they had the strongest rider.” before jokingly saying “And maybe what happened to Wiggins [in 2013] will happen to Froome. [in 2014]”
Getting more serious again, though, Riis added, “Really, though, we don’t want to look at our rivals. We have to focus on our squad and on what we can achieve.”