Bjarne Riis is losing hope that the NTT Pro Cycling team will continue to race into 2021, with no replacement sponsor in sight.
In an interview with Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet published on Monday, the team manager admitted it was “not really” realistic to believe the team can be saved after NTT ended its backing.
“As it looks right now, there is not a team with me at the helm next year. That’s the situation. We do not have a sponsor on hand right now and it is getting late so it does not look too good,” Riis said.
“I do not know now [if I sound pessimistic]. I just sound realistic, right? The situation is as it is and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Asked if it was realistic that a new sponsor could be found to keep the team afloat, he said: “No, not really. It’s a shame, because there is a huge potential in cycling for companies seeking maximum exposure.”
Riis, a former rider and manager of the Tinkoff-Saxo team, joined NTT Pro Cycling, formerly known as Dimension Data and MTN-Qhubeka, at the start of this year. It was initially suggested his company Virtu Cycling, which he runs with Lars Seier Christensen and Jan Bech Andersen, would take a third of the ownership of the team, but Danish media reported in September that the process didn’t go through and Doug Ryder remains the full owner.
Riis had long since been eyeing a route back into pro cycling after leaving the Tinkoff-Saxo team in 2015. A ‘Riis-Seier’ project was launched in 2016, and they took over the Virtu men’s and women’s teams in 2017, but they ultimately had to wait to get back to the WorldTour via an existing team in NTT. Riis has made no secret of his desire to put a Danish stamp on his team, but, despite a Copenhagen Grand Départ for the Tour de France, which has now been postponed from next year, he has been unable to find a sponsor in his home country, and insisted his plans couldn’t work without one.
“Well, I can not afford it, and I can not understand why someone takes it for granted that Lars should pay it all,” he said. “To think that Lars is just paying because he is who he is, is a wrong attitude to have. Why should he? It has never been discussed.
“There are huge opportunities for sponsors in the sport, and with a Tour de France in Copenhagen just around the corner, it is a pity that no one has struck.”
Riis said his desire to build a top-level Danish-registered team remained undimmed, but appeared resigned to the prospect of his current team going under at the end of the year.
“I am glad that many would like to see me lead a team, and I would very much like us to have a Danish team on the World Tour. It may be that it will come in the future,” he said.
“I’m sorry that it was not possible for us to do a good and proper project, because that was what Lars and I wanted. We wanted to establish a good team and create something amazing around it. That was our intention from the very beginning, but that’s not the way it’s meant to be. Not right now, at least.”
Eight riders, including Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts, are under contract with the team for 2021, while the whole roster and staff have been encouraged to look for work elsewhere from next year.