The proposed Bahrain team is busy this month preparing to become the first WorldTour from the Middle East in 2017. It selected Brent Copeland to manage its team and met with the UCI to explain its project.
Copeland will leave WorldTour team Lampre-Merida at the end of 2016 to manage Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa’s project, an insider confirmed to Cycling Weekly.
The South African managed Ben Spies in Moto GP and MTN-Qhubeka when it debuted in Europe in 2012, but has spent the majority of his time with team Lampre-Merida.
Copeland, however, would not comment on the move. He will leave Lampre stars including Rui Costa, Diego Ulissi and Sascha Modolo, but find a new project with Bahrain team.
He is expected to bring along domestiques Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli. The team needs to fill a 25- to 30-man roster, which could also include Rafal Majka, the 2014 Tour de France mountains classification victor who now rides for Tinkoff.
Sheikh Nasser competes in Ironman competitions regularly. This April, he placed eighth among 1200 in the Ironman African Championship, completing the 180-kilometre cycling leg in 5 hours, 16-28 minutes. After meeting with Nibali last year, he decided to start a team.
He will not make a big splash into cycling, but a modest start with a budget of £11.5 to £13.7 million (€15 to €18m), said an insider. Team Sky, in comparison, counts around £24 million. It will fly the Bahraini flag, but base itself in Bergamo, Italy. Copeland lives in the same region, an hour’s drive away in Como.
Who is the funniest rider in the peloton?
Last week, team officials met with cycling’s governing body to explain its project for 2017 and its plans to debut in the WorldTour. Despite rumours of a merger with an existing WorldTour team, the prince wants to start his own team from scratch.
Two of the 18 WorldTour licences will be available in 2017 with Tinkoff and IAM Cycling folding, the prince wants one of them to put Bahrain on cycling’s map.
Human rights groups are trying to stop the team from happening. They asked the UCI to not allow any such team because of Bahrain’s actions during the 2011 anti-government protests and allegations that the prince was directly involved with the crackdowns.
The team has until August 15 to submit its application for a WorldTour licence and if the licence commission believes there are ethical issues, they will consider the groups’ letters and the team’s response.
Any official announcements on riders will have to wait until August 1 due to the UCI’s transfer rules, but Prince Nasser will release other details at a press conference during the Tour de France’s first rest day on July 11.