MILAN (VN) — Cycling’s first top team from the Middle East has been unveiled ahead of an expected 2017 WorldTour debut with Italian star Vincenzo Nibali.
Over the last week, the team announced its intention to enter the top ranks and Monday, confirmed that Lampre – Merida’s team manager Brent Copeland would run the team. Along with Copeland, Taiwan’s Merida will make the switch as a co-sponsor and bicycle supplier.
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“Today, we become the Bahrain – Merida Pro Cycling Team,” said Brent Copeland. “The expertise that a distinguished brand such as Merida presents to the world of cycling will contribute significantly towards the Bahrain Cycling Team reaching its ambition to become a globally recognized team.”
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa began the team earlier this year from the island in the Persian Gulf, which is smaller than Rhode Island. If successful in his bid, he would take Bahrain to the top of the cycling world — a first for a team from the Middle East. The country already hosted major events such as Formula One races.
“We are thrilled to be able to announce the Bahrain Cycling Team today, as Bahrain holds a great love for this growing sport,” said a spokesperson last week. “As a country we already compete internationally in a range of sports, and we want to continue this though our commitment to international cycling.”
Though rich, Prince Nasser will make a modest splash into cycling. Insiders say that Vincenzo Nibali, currently with team Astana and winner of all three grand tours, will be the team’s top rider.
Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff), Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani – CSF), and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) are expected to join, as well. Nibali’s long-time coach Paolo Slongo will follow from team Astana.
South African Brent Copeland managed Ben Spies in Moto GP and team MTN-Qhubeka when it debuted in Europe in 2012. He spent the majority of his career with team Lampre – Merida.
The Lampre break will not be a clean one. Copeland brings along Merida and according to some insiders, Lampre’s WorldTour license.
Prince Nasser could buy Lampre’s license from the top Italian team to be sure of his place in the WorldTour, which may be smart considering the governing body wants to trim the number of top teams from 18 to 17. Manager Giuseppe Saronni would then apply for a Professional Continental license to continue Lampre.
With the scoop, team Bahrain may also pick up cyclists such as 24-year-old South African Louis Meintjes, who rode to eighth in the Tour de France last month.
The prince needs Meintjes as he and sponsors reportedly are worried that the team may be too Italian to reach large markets. The team will race with an Italian star, base itself near Bergamo, and possibly take out an Italian license.
Bahrain – Merida will unveil more details this week.