At a press conference in Beijing Friday, the Italian Lampre – Merida team said it will carry on as a WorldTour squad in 2017, but it will take on a Chinese sponsor, a first for any top-level cycling squad.

The news comes on the heels of the announcement that manager Brent Copeland will leave Lampre, bringing bike sponsor Merida with him, to run the new Bahrain – Merida team in 2017. Further, CyclingNews reported Friday that rising GC star Louis Meintjes will also join the new team, headed up by Vincenzo Nibali.

Officials did not name a new title sponsor but did confirm that TJ Sport Consultation will take charge of the team’s organization. Longtime sport director Giuseppe Saronni, world champion and winner of the Giro d’Italia in 1979 and 1983, will remain with the squad.

In 2016, the Lampre – Merida team had one Chinese rider, Xu Gang.

Lampre – Merida was the last remaining Italian team in the WorldTour; at one point there were four different top-tier pro teams hailing from Italy. Read more about the decline of Italian pro cycling >>