Announcing that he will spearhead the new Bahrain Merida team, 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali has confirmed a long-rumoured move to the aspiring WorldTour setup.
“I was immediately fascinated by the idea of a strong project plan built around me,” he said in a team announcement. “I have believed in the team from day one, because it has a clear vision and is to be carried out by some of the best professionals in the sport. This trust and confidence in me made me take the final decision for this new exciting adventure of my career. I can’t wait to meet their expectations at the most important races in the world wearing the jersey of Bahrain Merida.”
The project has been a controversial one due to the involvement of Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of the country’s ruler. He has faced allegations that he has directly and indirectly been involved in torture. Human rights groups have called on the UCI not to give the team a licence, and have also directly approached cycling sponsors and asked them not to be involved.
UCI President Brian Cookson indicated that the governing body would assess the team like any other.
“If some government, some sponsor is free to do business in the rest of the world, it is difficult for sport to hold that person, that business, that government to a higher standard. Until someone is proven guilty of some crime or some offence which stops them taking part in international life, then there is very little that a sports body can do about it.”
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2017 Astana bahrain - merida cycling transfers Giro d'Italia Tour de France transfer Vincenzo Nibali