Bjarne Riis, 1996 Tour de France winner and former Team CSC manager, could be back with Team Katusha, but he says that it is only “loose rumours.”
French newspaper L’Equipe reported that it learned that the Dane was in talks with Team Katusha owner Igor Makarov about buying the team. The team is in limbo with riders and sponsors leaving ahead of 2020.
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“There is no need to talk about loose rumours,” Riis responded to TV2 Sport. “The Katusha story is new to me.”
Riis last ran the CSC-Saxo Bank with Classics star Fabian Cancellara and 2009 Tour winner Carlos Sastre. He sold the team to Oleg Tinkov at the end of 2013 but stayed with the team as a manager, before they fell out and Riis left in 2015.
L’Equipe reports that he could be returning to the top WorldTour after managing continental and women’s teams Virtu/Waoo in recent years.
“Riis has never been so close to returning to the pack four years after selling his CSC team to the Russian oligarch Oleg Tinkov. He could return to Russia by buying the Katusha team,” wrote L’Equipe.
“The 55-year-old could buy the Katusha team from another oligarch Igor Makarov, who has decided to sell his team.”
Team Katusha stands on unstable ground according some insiders asked by Cycling Weekly during the Tour. Manager José Azevedo said: “We have some possibilities and everything is open.” However, the team’s co-sponsor Alpecin is leaving and its bike sponsor Canyon is unsure of continuing for 2020.
Only 10 riders remain under contract, including Alex Dowsett and Harry Tanfield, and others have not been signed to re-enforce the team for the following season. Sprinter Marcel Kittel took indefinite leave and Ilur Zakrin, stage winner in the Giro d’Italia, has signed for CCC for 2020.
French continental team Arkéa-Samsic also had been rumoured to be merging with Katusha. Arkéa-Samsic denied the deal is happening, though.
With the 2019 Tour de France finished and riders’ and sponsors’ contracts being negotiated for 2020, everything seems possible. L’Equipe even suggested that Riis would work his way into Deceuninck-Quick-Step by buying Patrick Lefevere’s shares in the team. Deceuninck-Quick Step manager Lefevere shot down that idea quickly on Twitter.
“I’m very aware of the fact there is very few news in cycling today, but I have 20% of the shares in the @Deceuninck_qst team. How can I sale the team??? Stop nonsense @lequipe. Lack of respect for mister @zdenekbakala.”
The French newspaper reported that Riis was trying to persuade Dane Jakob Fuglsang to join him in his new team. Fuglsang has ridden seven years with Astana but like Riis’s, his future is uncertain too with his contract is up at Astana.