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Saxo Bank squad loses co-sponsor

Riis faces another headache as his team heads into 2009.

Riis faces another headache as his team heads into 2009.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The Danish cycling team led by former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis has lost its co-sponsor Monday after software firm IT Factory declared bankruptcy and said its chief executive had embezzled 500 million kroner ($85 million).

The team was previously known as CSC Saxo Bank, but was due to change its name to Saxo Bank-IT Factory for the 2009 season after the Danish software company had apparently stepped up to replace the American Computer Services Corporation as a co-sponsor.

However, that deal collapsed on Monday when IT Factory chairman Asger Jensby said the company had filed for bankruptcy and contacted police on suspicion that company CEO, Stein Bagger, had stolen at least $85 million from the company.

The company had been on track to announce profits of $60 million for 2008 prior to news of Bagger’s disappearance.

Riis said the team was forced to look for a new sponsor but was confident it would be able to compete in 2009.

Why is this man smiling? It could be the millions Stein Bagger might have stashed in a numbered account.

Why is this man smiling? It could be the millions Stein Bagger might have stashed in a numbered account.

Photo: IT Factory

“We need to go out and find a new sponsor,” Riis said. “The team won’t shut down.”

Jensby said Bagger vanished during a trip to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, on Thursday and has not been heard from since. Jensby said Bagger’s disappearance has been reported to international authorities.

“We have launched legal action against the director Stein Bagger for the
embezzlement of at least 500 million kroner,” Jensby told a press conference,
adding that the missing director “is being hunted by Interpol.”

In September, IT Factory inked a three-year deal to co-sponsor Riis’ team starting January 1. Long time sponsor CSC did not renew for 2009, after eight years of supporting the team originally founded by Riis.

Speaking at another press conference prior to the unveiling of the CSC-Saxo
Bank team for the 2009 campaign, Riis vowed that the team would carry on.

“We’re working with Saxo Bank to find solutions and a new sponsor,” he said. “We’ve had a meeting with the cyclists and we’ve assured them that the team
will continue.”

CSC-Saxo Bank’s line-up for the new season does not feature Sastre – who has left to join the Cervelo TestTeam – but does include six new riders.

Riis added that his ambition was “to remain the best team in the world”.

“That aim has not changed despite the events of the last 24 hours”, he said, adding that Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara and brothers Andy and Frank Schleck from Luxembourg would stay part of the team.

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