MILAN, Italy (VN) — Google this: The U.S.-based internet company may be poised to enter pro cycling.
Google will host a press conference Monday in London with Saxo-Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis and sponsor Oleg Tinkov.
VeloNews reported Friday that the Russian businessman would speak at the press conference. It could be a chance for him to announce that he will buy the first-division license from longtime manager Riis. Or he may simply announce his continuation as a co-sponsor beyond 2013.
On Friday, the Danish WorldTour team sent a press release to journalists, inviting them to hear “important news about the future of the team.” The second line listed Google’s office in London as the address. Various media outlets overnight linked the two and reported that Google may take over the team’s sponsorship.
Google maintains three London offices and has its European base in Dublin. Last year, it partnered with Shift Active Media to create the Global Cycling Network (GCN) on its YouTube website. Google aims to create original content for cycling and other channels.
Hosting the Saxo-Tinkoff press conference at St Giles High Street, 15:00 local time, might simply be convenient, given GCN will stream the event, or it might be something more significant.
Saxo Bank and Tinkov did not reply when contacted for comment on this article. Simon Wear of Shift Active Media said the company was simply using Google’s office for the live stream.
Riis struggled to maintain his financial footing after Tinkov said this summer he would pull his sponsorship for 2014. Danish Saxo Bank announced October 10 that it would step up its contribution to fill the 6-million-euro gap.
Riis has other problems, as well. The Danish sports federation and anti-doping agency are investigating him over allegations that he may have been complicit in his riders’ doping.
He admitted in 2007 that he doped en route to his 1996 Tour de France victory. However, in his book “The Secret Race,” Tyler Hamilton said that Riis introduced him to Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the center of the Operación Puerto doping scandal. He later testified to this under oath in Madrid. Michael Rasmussen also alleged in his book “Yellow Fever” that Riis knew that he doped.
Regardless of whether Google signs up, Riis appears close to signing off on the team he started in 2000. The team ran as CSC before becoming Saxo Bank and enjoyed wins in the classics and in the grand tours.
The newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported earlier this month that Riis would stay on as a team manager. Alberto Contador, who came under fire from Tinkov during the 2013 Tour, asked that Riis continue.
La Gazzetta added in Saturday’s edition that Tinkov would pay 6 million euros for the license, 1 million euros a year to Riis, and budget 11 million to 13 million euros a year to run the team.
A Google sponsorship would be icing on pro cycling’s cake, a big business entering the sport in one of its most troubled times. This year, two first-division teams will leave the sport after their sponsors pulled the plug. Others, like Cannondale and Trek, continue with sponsors that have a clear interest in the sport.
“If there is any truth in the rumors, it’s nothing less than amazing to land a reputable company like Google,” sponsoring expert Ole Egeblad told Denmark’s DR website. “If I was the head of the UCI, I’d applaud the move.”