On Wednesday it was confirmed that 1996 Tour de France champion Bjarne Riis’s Virtu Cycling company has bought a minority share of the NTT Pro Cycling Team, until recently known as Dimension Data. In a press conference, Dane Riis said he would be immediately take over managing the team.
NTT has been around since 2008, and as a South African Pro Continental squad it was invited to Grand Tours including the Tour de France before it joined the WorldTour in 2016 as Dimension-Data. Although Dimension Data saw some notable Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings triumphs from 2016 to 2019, it was the lowest-ranked WorldTour team for three consecutive seasons, last year beating out only Katusha, which Israel Start-Up Nation absorbed to join the WorldTour for 2020.
At the press conference Riis said, “Together, I believe we can take the team to the next level and make it a team that everybody – riders and staff – want to be a part of. This is a long-term project and the goal is to win big races. I’m excited for the future.”
Riis’s professional career ran from 1986 to 2000, the classic EPO Era. Winner of the 1996 Tour over young teammate Jan Ullrich, who would wear yellow in Paris the next year, Riis admitted in 2007 that he used EPO, growth hormone and cortisone during the peak of his career.
After retirement, he co-owned and managed the ProTour/WorldTour squad CSC, which had Tour de France winners in Carlos Sastre and Andy Schleck. Riis sold his WorldTour license to Oleg Tinkoff in 2012 but soon had found Danish partners to launch Virtu Cycling, a sponsor of men’s and women’s development teams until last season.
Japanese telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone was announced as the incoming title sponsor back in July. The squad is still registered in South Africa and will continue to work with the Qhubeka charity. Switching from white and green, the team now dons a kit of a blue somewhere between Movistar and Deceuninck-Quick Step’s fading to black.