Bahrain will sponsor a new cycling team, expected to be in the WorldTour, in 2017 with Vincenzo Nibali as its star rider.
The small Middle East island today said that it would support the team through a group of businesses and partners. Cycling Weekly learned from inside sources in May that Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali will lead the team.
“We are thrilled to be able to announce the Bahrain Cycling Team today, as Bahrain holds a great love for this growing sport,” read a press release. “As a country we already compete internationally in a range of sports, and we want to continue this though our commitment to international cycling."
Starting August 1, the team and Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa should begin to announce its riders. It is due to announce Nibali's signature on August 3.
Sources say that Slovenian Gorazd Stangelj, currently with team Astana, and Croatian Vladimir Miholjevic, who manages the Tour of Croatia, will direct the team. South African Brent Copeland, currently manager of Lampre-Merida, will take the general manager role.
The team is due to ride on Merida bikes and take over Lampre-Merida's WorldTour licence. Lampre's general manager Giuseppe Saronni should apply for a second division licence to continue his team in 2017.
Along with Nibali, long-time coach Paolo Slongo will make the jump. Cyclists Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff), Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Salvatore Puccio (Sky) are linked, as well.
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa and the sponsors are worried about the team being too Italian. They are reportedly pushing Copeland to make sure there are more international names to draw attention.
South African Louis Meintjes could help. The 24-year-old finished eighth overall in the Tour de France and second behind Adam Yates in the young rider competition. He should join along with some other current Lampre cyclists
Bahrain's bid for a cycling team with the country's past political problems, including the 2011 anti-government protests, has raised concern. However, the UCI licence commission would only consider the concerns if the ethical issues linked to a cycling licence are strong enough.
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