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Unveiling a new project based on several aspects but including a potential return to the top level in pro cycling, Bjarne Riis and business partner Lars Seier Christensen have said they hope to have a WorldTour team in place by 2017.
Riis was the longtime owner of the Saxo Bank team, but sold the squad to the Russian millionaire Oleg Tinkov at the end of 2013. He was retained as the general manager, being paid a reported salary of one million euro per year.
However the two had a falling out and Riis left the team in March 2015. Since then he has worked on a return to the sport and Thursday’s announcement is the beginning of that.
The duo presented their plans in Denmark, presenting a group called the Riis/Seier Holding Company. The duo have invested an initial sum of five million euro, and are equal partners.
Under the plans, they will develop indoor training bikes with a Zwift-like virtual reality setup, training and nutrition apps, a test centre in Mallorca where professional and amateur riders can be assessed, cycling academies and a training base at a villa in Lucca, Tuscany.
The latter would cater for up to 22 guests at a time.
They believe this is a sustainable project, and from the cash raised a WorldTour team will be set up. Sponsors for that squad will also be needed.
Riis and Seier declined to comment on recent rumours that they would be part of a new team announced last weekend by Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain.
“It is our thought that in the long term there must be a World Tour team involved in this,” said Riis, according to Feltet.dk.
“We believe that if there will be World Tour team, it must be done right.”
However he also stressed that it was about more than just recreating what he had before.
“We are not just a cycling team. We will build things up in a different way than you’ve seen before. The goal of the business is that it must be sustainable. This concept we will go with, whatever or not a team is going to happen.”
Although Oleg Tinkov has said that his WorldTour licence is up for sale, he appears not to be interested in doing business with Riis again. He wrote a provocative tweet on Wednesday which did little to build bridges.
I'm 60% sure, Riis will announce tomorrow, how he adores Bahrein, after he been in love with Russia ??? before. Anything for ??
— Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) February 24, 2016
Whether or not that licence is ultimately the route for Riis back into the WorldTour, he said that he had found his time away from the sport difficult.
“For the first time since I was seven, I’ve had the chance to take a break from the sport. It has been hard when you have as much passion for the sport as I have,” he said.
However he said that there were some benefits to his time away from the WorldTour.
“It has been instructive to see the sport from the outside. It has given me the opportunity to see how the sport can be improved and to make it more professional.”
He added that if it proved too soon to have a WorldTour team in place by 2017, that they would work towards 2018. The other aspects of the project will happen much sooner.