Your New Favorite Team: Bahrain – Merida

The bad vibes surrounding this team's ownership are too extreme to shake. Human rights violations? That's a whole new level of bad for cycling.

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Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. It’s tough to be a cycling fan. Riders jump around more than a loose cassette. Teams change kits like Sven Nys swaps bikes in a muddy ’cross race. So, here’s a guide to your new favorite team. Don’t like these guys? Stay tuned for more previews.

Your team: Bahrain – Merida

Your team’s fan base: This guy.

A quick note about your team:  Earlier this year I wrote a column about Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad al Khalifa buying his way into pro cycling, and why it creates a deeply problematic situation for the sport. In case you missed it, here are the CliffsNotes: Sheikh Nasser loves bikes, which is a great look. But alas, he and his family were accused of torturing political dissidents during the country’s recent pro-democracy uprising. The allegations, contained in this document, include torture so graphic and awful that I will not mention it. Yeah, not a great look.

In the wake of that column I was contacted by an agency hired by Sheikh Nasser that vehemently denied the allegations. Again, the CliffsNotes: Sheikh Nasser and his family are merely the targets of political opponents, and the nasty torture allegations are false.

So where does that leave us? I suppose cycling’s newest owner is either a misunderstood monarch or a real-life Bond villain.

As cycling fans, we’ve seen all levels of dysfunction within the ownership ranks: boobish sportocrats, Russian goons, Spanish doping aficionados, and even crooked real estate tycoons. If the allegations against him are true, Sheikh Nasser makes these guys look like The Little Rascals. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think about this team (let alone write about it) without the word TORTURE popping into my brain.

Plus, Sheikh Nasser is kinda bad at twitter.

Your team’s star: There are so many impressive titles you can add to Vincenzo Nibali’s name. Shark of Messina. Tour de France winner. Two-time Giro d’Italia champ. Guy who got dropped by old man Chris Horner on the Angliru. The list is endless.

I often long for a simpler time, when Nibali was little more than the protege of Ivan Basso who starred alongside his mentor in those adorable commercials for Sidi cycling shoes. Yeah, you know the ones I’m talking about. Here’s the scenario: Two Italian bros are just broing out in the kitchen wondering what to make for dinner. One of them has a great thought: “Why not eat my $450 fine Italian leather cycling shoe?” Suddenly, we see a montage. Basso dons a chefs hat. He pours a splash of olive oil onto a pan and chops away at a shoe strap. He sautés veggies and plastic buckles, and blanches a mess of lettuce and shoe insoles. VOILA! Basso delivers his finished cuisine to Nibali, and it’s a shoe. Nibali offers a fake smile and prepares to nom nom nom.

I love this commercial, however I’m worried that a few misguided cycling fans may have taken it too literally. Did you cook and eat your cycling shoes? I’d love to hear about it. Email me at

OK, this team has a handful of B-level star climbers who could help shepherd Nibali to a Giro victory. Ion Izagirre won that exciting and rainy stage at this year’s Tour de France. Kanstantsin Siutsou and Janez Brajkovic are two veteran climbers with grand tour chops. And then there’s Franco Pellizotti.

Pellizotti embodies Italian cycling. He’s been around forever. He had great hair and impeccable style. He wins with panache. One time I grabbed a few quotes from him at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and he was wearing so much cologne that I swear he had cartoonish stink lines coming off of him. Speaking of cartoons, anybody else think Pellizotti bears an uncanny resemblance to the great Simpsons character Sideshow Bob?

Best-case scenario: The team designs a cool looking kit. Oh wait, they already did that.

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Nibali wins the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia, besting his former protege Fabio Aru, Dutch duo Bauke Mollema and Steven Kruijswijk, and, the disappointingly overpaid Mikel Landa, and, of course, Tejay van Garderen. Nibali doesn’t just win the race—he wins it with panache. He’s caught sleeping in the first week, losing time on Mt. Etna. He bumbles around in the second week, grabbing a few seconds here and there. Then, on stage 16, Nibali makes his move on the Stelvio. Sideshow Bob, er, Pellizotti, is there, and helps him get a gap on the Stelvio. Nibali dives like a hawk on the descent into Bormio, grabbing the maglia rosa by a few ticks of the clock.

Nibali celebrates by eating a shoe.

Photo: Tim De Waele |
Photo: Tim De Waele |

Worst-case scenario: Nibali’s bad first week sinks his Giro effort, and he’s beaten by Fabio Aru. Nibali and Aru DIDN’T film a Sidi commercial together, so there’s no congratulatory shoe meal waiting for him in Milan. Sideshow Bob succumbs to his cologne stink and is a DNF.

Likability rating: 3/10. We like Nibali and the team’s kit looks really sharp. But the bad vibes surrounding this team’s ownership are too extreme to shake. Taking an outdoor shower is one thing. Human rights violations? That’s a whole new level of bad for cycling.