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Riis to announce cycling project in February

MILAN (VN) — Bjarne Riis could return with a team of his own only three years after selling Saxo-Tinkoff. His friend and potential co-owner Lars Seier Christensen says they will make an announcement February 25 in Copenhagen.

Riis sold the Saxo-Tinkoff franchise in December 2013 to Oleg Tinkoff for a reported $6.5 million and stayed on as a manager until last March, when the two fell out. The 1996 Danish Tour de France winner, however, could be ready to return to cycling based on Seier Christensen’s Facebook post Wednesday.

“OK. There seems to be interest in my and Bjarne Riis’s cooperation,” the post reads. “Thank you for that! We are both looking forward to announcing our plans for the Riis * Seier project at a press conference the 25th of February, 12:30 at Hotel d’Angleterre. Thanks for the interest and the support. Kind regards, Bjarne Riis and Lars Seier Christensen.”

The five-star hotel could be the proper venue for Riis’s big splash back into professional cycling. Amid an anti-doping investigation — which he survived thanks to the statute of limitations — and problems with Tinkov, rumors in Denmark circulated that Riis wanted to return with his own cycling team.

Massimo Zanetti told VeloNews Riis approached him before he decided to use his money from coffee giant Segafredo to co-sponsor American team Trek. “Riis wanted to create a unique team based around us, but I wanted to join a team that was already built up,” Zanetti said.

The twist, showing that fact is often stranger than fiction, is that Riis could be returning to cycling with the very team he began from the ashes of Home-Jack & Jones in 2000. Tinkov’s desire to leave the sport at the end of 2016 is Riis’ opportunity to buy a WorldTour team.

“He wants to create a team somehow, and buying back team Tinkoff could be one of the possibilities,” Mads Kindberg Nielsen, a journalist for Danish newspaper BT, told VeloNews.

“If you look back to the last six months, everything points in the direction that he will start to team. He was booted from the team by Oleg, that had to be a blow for him. We know that he’s a first-class guy and probably doesn’t want to start just a Continental team or Professional Continental team, but a WorldTour team. We don’t know for sure, though, because Riis is a pretty secretive man.”

Tinkov would keep the selling price secret, but it should be somewhere near what he paid to Riis in December 2013. Riis would need money from backers to make the deal happen and sponsors to keep the team rolling into 2017 and beyond. This is where Seier Christensen, the former director at Saxo Bank and Riis’ sponsorship connection, comes in. In theory, he would buy the team with Riis and the two would find sponsors.

In return, they would have 2015 world champion Peter Sagan and 2014 Tour de France king of the mountain Rafal Majka in their books. Those two plus three others are the only riders of 27 current members of Tinkoff still under contract in 2017.

It would be ideal for the team, whose cyclists and staff face a job search if Tinkov fails to find a buyer. Sagan, who began his season at the Tour de San Luis, said he is not concerned about his future.

“I don’t have to worry about my future,” Sagan told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “[Tinkov] announced his decision with plenty of time to find the best solution, for me and the rest of the team.”