Picture:123RF / FEDERICOFOTO
Picture:123RF / FEDERICOFOTO

While Doug Ryder is hopeful his NTT Pro Cycling team will be racing in 2021, Wednesday’s announcement that he will do so without the assistance of Bjarne Riis has not come as the biggest of surprises.

It was confirmed that Riis has stepped down as manager of the team by “mutual consent” just more than a week after he was asked by Danish newspaper EkstraBladet whether he thought the team would get a new sponsor and replied: “No, not really. As it looks right now, there is not a team with me at the helm next year. That’s the situation.

“We do not have a sponsor on hand right now and it is getting late so it does not look too good,” Riis, the former Danish cyclist and team manager, told the newspaper. “I do not know now [if I sound pessimistic]. I just sound realistic, right? The situation is as it is and there is nothing I can do about it.

“It’s a shame because cycling offers huge sponsor potential for much less investment than Formula One or football. There was interest from Danish companies, especially now the Tour de France starts in Denmark in 2022, but they didn’t make that last step. Maybe the insecurity around the pandemic plays a role.” 

Ryder contradicted that statement, sounding upbeat last week during a virtual event of the Laureus Foundation when he said he had a lead on a possible replacement for the departing NTT.

“It has been a good year on the bike. Sadly, it has not been so good from a sponsorship point of view in terms of our future, but we are piecing that puzzle together,” said Ryder.

He joined them at the beginning of 2020, promising to purchase a part of NTT with his partners, Jan Bech Andersen and Lars Seier Christensen, but stalled on that

“When we announced that we needed a new partner, the response has been unbelievable from all over the world. Our social media presence has been incredible in terms of people just trying to support us. We have people from America to Australia and everything in between loving this team and wanting to get involved, trying to make a difference, and trying to connect with us.

“It is tough in the world today economically, and some businesses are really struggling, and some aren’t. But we are very close to being on the road next year.” 

After Ryder’s statement, Riis told Danish media he had not spoken to Ryder in a while and was very much in the dark about a new sponsor.

The departure of Riis is hardly the worst news for the team, should they survive. He joined them at the beginning of 2020, promising to purchase a part of NTT with his partners, Jan Bech Andersen and Lars Seier Christensen, but stalled on that.

Up until September, during the Tour de France, it was understood he had signed a letter of intent, but two months later his intentions have been made clear. Riis’s relationship with NTT was a bitter pill to swallow for some given the Dane’s doping background.

In 2007, he admitted to doping during his career, in which he won the 1996 Tour de France. In 2015, the Danish antidoping authorities released a report into doping in Danish cycling, implicating a number of the riders on Team CSC, which was managed and owned by Riis.

Riders testified Riis had been complicit in the doping, a charge he denied.

On Wednesday, Ryder and Riis were diplomatic in their statements regarding each other.

“I’d like to thank Bjarne for the experience and leadership that he has brought to our environment, and the contribution he has made. We’d like to wish him all the very best for the future,” said Ryder, while Riis stated: “To be a part of NTT Pro Cycling during a unique year for all of us has been a great experience. I have a lot of respect for the team that Doug has built and want to thank him for the opportunity. I wish him all the best for the future.” 

That future will be without SA champion Ryan Gibbons, who, having spent all of his professional career under Ryder, has signed a two-year contract with UAE-Emirates.

Ben O’Connor, the 24-year-old Australian who won the 16th stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia, has found a spot with France’s Ag2r-Citroën, while Rasmus Tiller has gone to Uno-X Pro Cycling Team. Michael Valgren is believed to be heading to EF-Education First, the American team.

The team’s contracted riders for 2021 according to cyclingtips.com are Max Walscheid, Dylan Sunderland, Andreas Stokbro, Matteo Sobrero, Domenico Pozzovivo, Michael Gogl, Victor Campenaerts and Samuele Battistella.

SA’s Reinardt Janse van Rensburg recently announced he was “still searching for a ride for next year”, while his countryman Jay Thomson may retire after 10 years with the team. Stefan de Bod said he would spend some time at home in the Western Cape before thinking about 2021, while the future of Nic Dlamini is uncertain.

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