Mystery UAE backer secures future of UCI WorldTour team

Former WorldTour team Lampre-Merida is set to continue into the 2017 season after being granted a two-year licence by the International Cycling Union (UCI), however its backing has switched from a Chinese entity to a United Arab Emirates-based body.

The announcement from the UCI ends a period of uncertainty for the team, but it is still unclear as to the identity of its new backer. The UCI said in a statement that a licence has been granted according to its regulations, and following a full review of the documentation provided concerning different criteria for awarding of licences.

The team is now set to ride under the UAE Abu Dhabi moniker, with the squad being registered in the United Arab Emirates. Chinese entity TJ Sports last month said it was in the process of fulfilling the criteria needed to secure a WorldTour licence after being the only outfit to miss out in a UCI announcement. The UCI said it had awarded WorldTour licences to 17 teams for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, with TJ Sports facing further scrutiny from the UCI Licence Commission.

It was announced in August that the WorldTour was set for its first Chinese team after a takeover deal was sealed for the Italian outfit Lampre-Merida. Chinese company TJ Sport Consultation was confirmed as the new licence holder of Lampre-Merida, which was formed in 1991. TJ Sport Consultation replaced CGS Cycling as the licence holder to create China’s first WorldTour team from the 2017 season onwards.

The award of a licence to UAE Abu Dhabi completes the 18-team roster for the 2017 WorldTour. The teams to be granted licences form the bulk of those who competed this season, with two exceptions. German outfit Bora-Hansgrohe is promoted from Professional Continental level after signing Peter Sagan and Rafael Majka. Meanwhile, the newly formed Bahrain-Merida project has secured WorldTour status for its debut season after signing Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali as team leader.

The UCI last month elected to delay a reduction of the number of teams competing in its elite WorldTour to 2019. In June, it was announced that the number of WorldTeams would be set at 17 for 2017, with the objective to reach 16 a year later. From the 2019 season onwards, it was proposed that the number of WorldTeams would be set at 16.

However, following a meeting of the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), stakeholders of men’s professional road cycling agreed a new set of WorldTour regulations for the 2017 season and beyond. The UCI said that since the commencement of the WorldTeam registration process for 2017, it had “become clear” that there were 18 candidates for WorldTeam licences.