Bjarne Riis promises his team will ride on in 2011, but whether or not the Schleck brothers will be there remains to be seen.
The Danish team manager revealed Monday that two new sponsors will come on board to guarantee the future of the team. Existing sponsor SunGard will step up as co-sponsor while Riis says he has another major sponsor lined up to take over for the exiting Saxo Bank at the end of 2010.
“I’ve just met our staff and riders and told them next two years are secured for this team,” Riis said at a Monday press conference. “We’re so happy – last year we started relationship with Sunguard, proved to them what we can do, they’re happy and the are ready to step up, very important sponsor as co-title sponsor it will help us a lot for sure.
“This will allow us to continue at the same level we are right now,” Riis added. “We are still negotiating with other sponsors to take the team an even higher level. We want to be the leading team in the world.”
The news comes as a big relief to Riis, who was looking to find a new sponsor to take over for Saxo Bank, which will leave as title sponsor at the end of this season.
SunGard ─ a software and technology company based in Wayne, Pennsylvania ─ will step up as a co-sponsor. Riis also said he’s reached an agreement with “another company as title sponsor,” but said he cannot reveal the name due to the “business strategy” of the unnamed company.
Riis said the new sponsors will allow him to underwrite the existing budget of the team.
The Dane shared the news with the team’s riders and staff before the start of a press conference in Morzine on Monday afternoon.
“I think it’s good for cycling that we can continue with this project,” Riis said. “The philosophy of this team is important for the future of cycling.”
The announcement of new sponsors to secure the team’s future comes at an important time for Saxo Bank’s existing riders. Many of the team’s top riders were already sending out feelers with rival teams if Riis couldn’t find new backers.
Riis said the deal is “something everyone can be very proud of. Staff, organization have worked very hard to make this happen, we can be very proud.
“I can guarantee that we can continue,” he added. “I’m very happy about that, we’re all very motivated now, we’ve seen that the whole week, we’re going to show the whole world what we’re here for, we’re going to make this a very exciting Tour.”
Most of the team’s top riders, including Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt, Jakob Fuglsang and Matti Breschel, will likely stay with Riis and the team’s new sponsors.
There is much speculation, however, that the Schleck brothers will leave Saxo Bank at the end of the 2010 to join a new Luxembourg-backed team being organized by Saxo Bank sport director Kim Andersen.
Riis decided not to bring Andersen to the Tour because he said he didn’t want the daily distraction about the future of the team to interfere with the task of racing the Tour.
Andersen ─ who ran the Fatka team before joining Riis as lead sport director in the early 2000s – said running his own team with Luxembourg sponsors was a “once in a lifetime chance” he could not pass by.
Andy Schleck, winner of Sunday’s stage, said he wouldn’t talk about his future until after the Tour, but added that “I am really happy on this team (Saxo Bank). If Bjarne didn’t find a new sponsor, it would be a big loss for the sport of cycling.”
Though the Schleck brothers are rumored to be joining Andersen on the new team, sources close to the team told VeloNews there’s nothing finalized yet for the Schleck brothers’ future.
The same source told VeloNews that Riis has had contact with Alberto Contador about joining the team if the Schleck brothers leave. Contodor’s brother Fran, who acts as his agent, said last week that the two-time Tour winner was seriously considering an offer to extend his contract with Astana.