Road

Bjarne Riis out of NTT as team continues its sponsor search for 2021

Behind-the-scenes fallout sees Riis exiting after less than one year at helm of African team.

Bjarne Riis and his return to the WorldTour didn’t last long.

The sometimes controversial team manager is out of NTT Pro Cycling at the end of 2020, less than one year after his high-profile return in January.

According to NTT officials, Riis and his partners, Jan Bech Andersen and Lars Seier Christensen, also discontinued discussions with NTT team principal Douglas Ryder about a purchase of a part of NTT Pro Cycling. Riis initially came into the African-registered with the commitment of buying about one-third of team ownership, but those plans never came to fruition.

Like many other teams, NTT was swamped by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Riders and staffers saw wage reductions, and later title sponsor NTT, a Japanese software company, announced it would end its long-running backing of the team at the end of 2020.

Ryder said his organization is continuing to search for new backers to keep the squad afloat going into 2021. The team was not among the initial round of WorldTour licenses that was confirmed last week for next season.

“As NTT Pro Cycling continues to fight to secure its future, further updates regarding the sustainability of our team will follow in due course,” a press release stated Wednesday.

The exit marks an abbreviated return for Riis to the WorldTour stage. The ex-pro, who admitted he used doping products during his career, left the sport as team manager in 2015 after selling his stake in Saxo Bank to Russian magnate Oleg Tinkov, who is currently battling leukemia and extradition charges.

Riis’s departure comes at what team officials describe as “mutual consent.”

“I’d like to thank Bjarne for the experience and leadership that he has brought to our environment, and the contribution he has made,” Ryder said. “We’d like to wish him all the very best for the future.”

Seier Christensen, a Danish banker and financier who has been a longtime backer of Riis via Saxo Bank, also announced on his Facebook page that after more than a decade in the sport he would no longer support cycling, and hinted that he would search out other sports to throw his financial weight behind.

Without the financial support of Seier Christensen, Riis will have an even more difficult time trying to hustle new sponsors or to create a new team.