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McLaren to sponsor Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida team

The F1 powerhouse will be a 50 percent owner of the team that formed in 2017.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Motorsport giant McLaren is entering cycling at the top level just as Sky is leaving.

The English Formula One group, the second most winning constructor in the sport, will sponsor Vincenzo Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida team starting in 2019.

The news comes just hours after Sky announced it will end its backing of the British super-team after 10 seasons.

“McLaren has been raising the bar for technological innovation and sport performance for decades,” said team general manager Brent Copeland. “The combination of our passion and vision for Team Bahrain-Merida to be a winning team, with McLaren’s expertise and dedication, is the perfect partnership.”

The name McLaren will appear around the sleeves of the team’s jerseys, but the deal is much larger than that. The squad called it a “50 percent joint venture.”

McLaren could become the title sponsor as early as 2020. However, it is understood that John Allert, McLaren’s chief marketing officer, and the Woking, England-based group wants an understated presence in the first year of the deal.

This is not McLaren’s first foray into cycling. It worked with California-based Specialized to make the S-Works McLaren Venge that Mark Cavendish rode in the 2011 Tour de France. Cavendish also used the bike to win that year’s world championship in Copenhagen. This was partly the reason why Cavendish was rumored to join Bahrain-Merida earlier this year.

“There were discussions with his agent but nothing went further than that,” Copeland said. “We had contact with his agent, we thought about bringing him on, but he worked out a deal that worked best for him and Dimension Data.”

Team Sky runs on more than $40 million a year. Bahrain-Merida had an estimated $17 million budget for 2018. McLaren, on the other hand, puts around $250 million into its F1 racing program.

No one on the cycling team that began with the push of Prince Nasser in Bahrain, a small island in the Persian Gulf, will put an exact dollar figure on the McLaren agreement. Certainly, it will expand Bahrain-Merida’s reach for 2019 and beyond.

It also means that Rohan Dennis, Nibali, and others on the roster could benefit from McLaren’s wind tunnel testing and technology center in Woking. Dennis and Nibali already used it. Just as with Specialized, McLaren will work with Merida to develop bikes.

“Racing, technology, and human performance are at the heart of everything we do at McLaren,” Allert said.

“Cycling is something we have been involved with in the past and have been looking at entering for some time. It is a completely natural fit for our skills and our ambitions and a perfect partnership with Team Bahrain-Merida, who have the right vision and approach for the future.

“We will be working tirelessly in the months ahead as we know the world of professional cycling is home to some of the best athletes and competitive teams in the world of sport.”

Australian Rohan Dennis joined the team from BMC Racing and brings an added focus of time trials. Nibali has won all three grand tours, including the 2014 Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia twice. He is expected to return to the Tour next summer.

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