Riis details radical financial structure for new team

Bjarne Riis announced the first steps in his return to pro cycling on Thursday, aiming for a WorldTour spot in 2017.

Bjarne Riis took the first steps toward a return to pro cycling on Thursday, revealing a project with business partner Lars Seier Christensen that will seek to gain a WorldTour license by 2017.

The project will generate revenue from alternative sources, including nutrition and training apps, a test center in Mallorca, a bike tourist villa in Tuscany, and stationary bikes combined with virtual simulation, similar to programs like Zwift, TrainerRoad, or BKool. The two have put in 3.9 million euros of their own cash to kickstart the project.

Riis was previously connected to Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, a potential source of funding for a new team, but the Dane made no mention of Bahrain or the prince on Thursday.

Riis described the multi-faceted model as more “sustainable” than the traditional total reliance on sponsorship dollars, but his new team will still need a major sponsor to get off the ground. Potential sources of that sponsorship were not discussed Thursday.

“We are not just a cycling team. We create a foundation that holds water,” Riis said. “We will build the bike up in a different way than you’ve seen before. The goal of the business is that it must be sustainable.”

Riis was the longtime owner of the SaxoBank team, and before that CSC, until he was bought out and made general manager by Oleg Tinkov at the end of 2013. He was removed from that post in 2015, and has been outside the sport since then.

“For the first time since I was seven, I’ve had the chance to take a break from the sport. And it has been hard when you have so much passion for the sport that I have,” he said at a press conference in Denmark. “It has been instructive to see the sport from the outside. It has given me the opportunity to see how the sport can be improved and made more professional.”

The WorldTour is currently at its limit of 18 teams, but there are opportunities for Riis to secure a license. Tinkov plans to pull out of the sport at the end of 2016, and has said that his WorldTour license is up for sale. However, Riis could end up competing for the license with a new team proposed by Alberto Contador.