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By Andrew Hood
Sources have confirmed that the Saxo Bank cycling team will race on Specialized bikes during the 2009 season and beyond.
Sources close to the team, which now operates under the banner of CSC-Saxo Bank, have confirmed to VeloNews that the Morgan Hill, California-based company is poised to announce the agreement with CSC-Saxo Bank team owner Bjarne Riis.
“It’s a big deal. The team is one of the biggest teams in the industry and a lot of bike manufacturers want to work with them,” said one official, who declined to be identified. “Bjarne is one of the most demanding managers out there when it comes to equipment. He wants the best. Having the best bike gives them a competitive edge.”
Specialized officials were not available for comment.
The news comes on the heels of the announcement Thursday that Cervélo – CSC Saxo Bank’s bike sponsor since 2002 – will back a new team as the title sponsor for 2009.
The Saxo Bank deal will keep Specialized on the front line of bike sponsorship among European teams.
The company recently announced an extension of its sponsorship with Quick Step, but the imminent demise of the Gerolsteiner team created an opening for an additional top European squad to carry its brand.
Contacts between Specialized and Riis began months ago.
The Dane — legendary as being one of the most engaging and most demanding team owners when it comes to equipment — travelled several times to California the past several months to try out the bikes and talk to the Specialized engineers to evaluate the products and their potential.
On the last trip he was able to hammer out the final details of the deal.
As part of the agreement, Specialized will provide the team with its top-line Tarmac and Roubaix frames as well as other parts and components.
Riis considered several companies, but chose Specialized because of the company’s solid commitment to racing, its openness to new ideas and input as well as its top-quality range of bikes and equipment.
“There probably was a different kind of temperament at Specialized. They were open, engaging, ready to listen to new ideas,” the source said. “Bjarne probably asked himself, where can we go further with development? He seemed to have a good understanding with Specialized from the beginning.”
Riis and the Saxo Bank riders and staff will work closely with Specialized engineers in testing equipment, trying out new ideas and improving frames and components to maximize performance for the racers.
With the presence of classics rider and world time trial and Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara along with GC riders such as the Schleck brothers and recently crowned Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre – although still not confirmed for the team next year – assures Specialized of a high-profile position in the peloton throughout all the season’s highlights.