By Gregor Brown
Ernesto Colnago says that he is sponsoring the new Chinese TJ Sport-Lampre team with his bicycles next year as a way to continue his family business.
Italian team Lampre-Merida turns Chinese next year with its primary sponsor and its expected WorldTour licence registered in China. Ben Swift was the first to join the team, with most of its riders continuing from this year's team.
"Economically, it's going to be important with this team," Colnago told Cycling Weekly.
"I did it for that reason. I'm at a certain age , but my family, nephews, and people are going to go ahead with this company. This is a way to not leave, to not miss the train."
TJ Sport is the name of the holding group of Chinese businesses and investors created by the sports ministry. The team will likely take its name from one of the businesses, but it has yet to say which one. China's goal is to get the population back on bikes to fight pollution, increasing vehicle traffic and obesity.
Manager Giuseppe Saronni looked ready to stop or step down to the professional continental division when Taiwanese bike manufacturer Merida left to support the new Bahraini team.
China ensured that 1982 world champion Saronni could continue the team that began in 1990. Backing from Colnago’s company in Cambiago, near Milan, sweetened the deal.
"The Chinese made this request to enter the WorldTour for the health of the country. They want to bring cycling to China and wanted to enter the sport in style, with a WorldTour team. Giuseppe Saronni's team was free,” said Colnago.
"With the market transferred a little in Asia, this is a way for Colnago to continue. To be Colnago. This was the only way to enter the WorldTour because the rest [of the teams] are all tied up to big manufacturers."
Colnago was in the WorldTour with team Europcar in 2014. The team stepped down to the professional continental level in 2015 and in 2016, agreed to a deal with BH bicycles.
"It's not that I left the WorldTour. Many others came in and when the contract expired, they offered three to four times more than I could. My legs are only so long, it's not that I can elongate my step," Colnago continued.
"I am in it for quality, not quantity. The Chinese want quality, the Colnago brand. A world famous brand."
The Colnago deal runs for four years, through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. They will supply around 100 to 150 frames to the team for 2017.
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