• Rui Costa has opted to go with the new Chinese setup for the next two seasons (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Former world champion Rui Costa and Italian star Diego Ulissi have been announced as the first riders to sign on with the new Chinese-backed team that has taken on the licence of Lampre-Merida. The outfit, run by TJ Sport Consultation aims to be the first Chinese-registered World Tour team.
Cycling Central

30 Aug 2016 - 11:26 AM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2016 - 11:29 AM

After the group announced last week that it would take over the licence of the Lampre-Merida team, it has wasted no time making a move on signing riders, securing Costa and Ulissi for the next two seasons.

With a Chinese naming rights sponsor to be announced later, it is very odd that the team haven't opted to wait until the main sponsor was onboard to make the key signing announcements, with the exposure for the sponsor that such announcements draw.

China's first WorldTour team on the cards after Lampre licence take over
The UCI WorldTour team could get its first Chinese team after it was announced TJ Sport Consultation will take over the licence of the Lampre-Merida team in 2017.

Rui Costa, who won the world championships in 2013, has been in some very solid form this season despite not taking any wins, with strong showings at the Tour de France, Ardennes classics and the Olympics.

Costa was particularly enticed to the Chinese squad by the presence of former world champion, Giuseppe Saronni, who is expected to be named as the manager for the team. Costa said being part of the new project was special for him.

“I had received proposals from other teams, however when Saronni described to me his ideas for the future and the project, I had no doubts and I immediately chose to sign a new contract for the next two years,” said Costa.

“I really appreciate that Saronni and the group of TJ Sport trust in me. This is a great motivation for me.”

Ulissi, 27, has raced since 2010 with Lampre-Merida, the only professional team he's competed with so far in his career. He won two stages of the Giro d'Italia in May and has looked more a rider to be feared in this season as opposed to his immediate form after coming back from his doping ban for testing positive from Salbutamol at the 2014 Giro d'Italia.

"I'm happy to continue along the professional path I have started in the team several years ago, adding a new enthusiasm which comes from the Chinese project,” he said. “I'm sure the next two years will be full of satisfactions.”

The news of the formation of the new team has come as a blow to the Bahrain-Merida team who had hoped to sign a number of riders from the Italian team for their new setup. They had already secured the title sponsor and the team's manager, Brent Copeland, but will now not be able to snap up riders like Louis Meintjes, Sacha Modolo and Matej Mohoric unless the riders or team can find a way out of their existing contracts.