The Middle East’s first WorldTour team is quietly preparing to debut in 2017 with Italian star Vincenzo Nibali with the funding of Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The prince plans to present the Bahraini team at the Tour de France in July.
Bahrain boasts a £22.5 billion gross domestic product, but Prince Nasser’s debut will not be a big splash. Instead, the budget will be around £11.5 to £13.7 million (€15 to €18m), according to an insider. For comparison, Sky’s is around £24 million.
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Once the budget is confirmed, the team will ask for a WorldTour licence from the UCI. The team will be completely Bahrain-based, but with European headquarters likely to be in Bergamo, Italy.
Nibali is currently racing the Giro d’Italia, but already told those close to him to be ready for the switch from team Astana at the end of 2016. Nibali should take along team-mates Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli, masseur Michele Pallini, trainer Paolo Slongo and team manager Giuseppe Martinelli. Cycling Weekly understands that Nibali asked Sky’s Nicolas Roche about joining him in the Middle East’s first top team.
Specialized bicycles will not continue with Nibali. The American bicycle manufacturer will back only one or two teams in 2017: Etixx-QuickStep and Peter Sagan’s team, which will not be in Bahrain. Bianchi, which does not have a deal with LottoNL-Jumbo for next year, could help the team roll into the season. Sportful will outfit the team, assuming team Tinkoff closes.
The prince, apart from his initial Instagram post, has been quiet and spending his time racing horses and in triathlons. Earlier this month, he competed at a horse show England’s Windsor Endurance Race. Instead, he is putting faith in those close to the sport.
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Italian Alex Carera should be involved in the team and would leave the agency business to his brother Johnny to avoid conflicts. The two have been speaking to potential riders to support Nibali and lead the team in other races. To make sure it can afford enough stars to lead it in other races, a smaller second sponsor could join, perhaps British sports nutrition company Multipower or a Swiss backer.
Some insiders spoke about a deal between Ralph Denk’s Bora-Argon 18 team and Giuseppe Saronni’s Lampre-Merida team. Denk said no such merger will take place as he is building a super German team for the WorldTour. Lampre, Italy’s only WorldTour team, also appears unlikely at this point. One insider told Cycling Weekly this morning, “The prince can do it on his own.”