With Assos confirmed as the new backer of NTT Pro Cycling team for 2021, the team’s management has turned their focus on completing their roster, with Fabio Aru closely linked to the team as Grand Tour leader.
Cyclingnews reported on Thursday that Swiss clothing brand Assos would step in to save Doug Ryder’s team and ensure its place in the WorldTour, with the team and Assos confirming the news on Friday.
BMC are staying on as the bike sponsor for the team, with an expected total budget of around €8 million. This is low compared to Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma but with rider contracts falling significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a number of quality riders still looking for contracts, it should be enough to fund a competitive WorldTour roster.
A number of high-profile riders have already left the team after NTT ended their sponsorship, with Michael Valgren departing for EF Pro Cycling, Edvald Boasson Hagen going to Total Direct Energie, Louis Meintjes to Circus-Wanty Gobert, and Ben O’Connor leaving for AG2R Citröen.
Cyclingnews understands that Max Walscheid, Domenico Pozzovivo, Andreas Stokbro, Michael Gogl, Dylan Sunderland, and Victor Campenaerts have all been given new deals until the end of 2022, while South Africans Jay Thomson, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, and Nic Dlamini are also set to stay.
European road race champion Giacomo Nizzolo is also expected to stay on but his deal has yet to be announced, while Enrico Gasparotto is likely to race one last season with the team. Belgium’s Dimitri Claeys has also been linked to Qhubeka-Assos after his sixth place at the Tour of Flanders.
Aru has endured three difficult but highly-paid seasons with UAE Team Emirates and is looking to get his career back on track in 2021. He could become Qhubeka-Assos’ Grand Tour leader, with his contract terms perhaps linked to performance, as the team take a bet on him returning to success.
The COVID-19 lockdown period this year hampered Aru’s ability to come back from iliac artery problems and a viral infection that saw him abandon the 2019 Vuelta a Espana.
Aru struggled and eventually abandoned this year’s Tour de France due to personal reasons, but his Grand Tour results, including a victory at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, have sparked interest from several teams at both WorldTour and ProTeam level.
Aru has refused to reveal which team he will ride for in 2021, telling Italian television that “more will be revealed in the next few days.”
“It’s about the team’s plans and objectives,” Aru said, suggesting he would like to return to the Giro d’Italia in 2021. “There will be a change, there’s got to be a change but I wanted to take time to decide things.”
Aru lives in Lugano, in the Italian canton of Switzerland, close to Assos’ headquarters in San Pietro di Stabio and the brand seems keen to have him in the team.
“We hope to have him in the team. If it was up to me I’d take him immediately,” former Italian rider Daniele Nardello and now the Assos head in-house product tester told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday.
“I don’t decide things: that’s up to team manager Doug Ryder with his technical staff and the owners. Fabio deserves another chance. He’s had a lot of problems but his results didn’t come by chance, he’s a top rider.”
Nardello revealed that Assos stepped in to help when Bjarne Riis left the team.
“The team used our clothing in 2020 and so we were able to test our clothing,” he said.
“When Bjarne Riis didn’t find a sponsor and left, we offered to get involved. We’ve always liked the Qhubeka slogan: ‘Bicycle Change Lives’ and now we’re proud to be able to support them.
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