By Gregor Brown
Bjarne Riis' Saxo Bank team faces competition even before the Tour de France begins in Rotterdam in five days. The transfer market has unofficially opened and still without a replacement sponsor, rival teams are approaching his top riders, Fränk and Andy Schleck. One team has especially ruffled his feathers, headed by his team's and Sky's former press officer, Brian Nygaard.
Nygaard joined team Sky after working several years with fellow Dane Riis at team Saxo Bank/CSC. After the Giro d'Italia, he left his post at team Sky to form a new team based in Luxembourg for 2011. Kim Anderson abruptly left Saxo Bank after six years this week when Riis discovered that he would act as the new teams head sports director.
Riis told Danish TV2 yesterday, "We would be naive to think that there will be a team in Luxembourg without Andy and Fränk."
He reportedly is close securing a deal with current co-sponsor SunGard to become head sponsor. However, as Riis puts it, Luxembourg's top cyclists will want to ride for their country's team.
"I know Bjarne is able to create a great team, and I am therefore convinced that he, as Bjarne himself suggests, has a strong new sponsor on the way," Nygaard told Politiken.dk.
"I am grateful for everything I've learned from both Bjarne and Team Sky."
Nygaard is unable to confirm the sponsors at this time and, following UCI rules, will not release any riders' names until after September 1.
Dane Jakob Fuglsang is linked with the new team as well, though Swiss Fabian Cancellara is interested in signing with Cadel Evans' BMC Racing, according to Tuttosport.
Andy finished second behind Alberto Contador (Astana) last year at the Tour de France by 4'11" and the two brothers helped Carlos Sastre win the race in 2008. This weekend, Andy won the time trial title and Fränk won the road race title.
Schleck's swan song with Riis may be this year's Tour de France, where he is the favourite to beat defending champion Contador. However, he is keeping tight-lipped on any negotiations.
"For the moment," he told L'Equipe, "we are at Saxo Bank."
Sunderland and Team Sky part company
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