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ONE of the most respected figures in world cycling Rod Ellingworth will become team principal, Team Bahrain-Merida, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) WorldTour professional cycling team, from October.
The team, a joint venture between Bahrain World Tour Cycling and McLaren, has quickly established itself as a new force in professional cycling.
Ellingworth, 46, who has played a key role in both Olympic and World Tour cycling successes across two decades, said: “I’m delighted to be joining Team Bahrain-Merida as team principal.
“Since the team’s break-through season in 2017, I’ve been impressed by its competitiveness. McLaren’s co-ownership of the team now provides a unique opportunity to look at every area of performance with a fresh perspective – and I find this massively appealing.
“I’m also excited by the opportunity to bring my own knowledge and ideas to the team and can’t wait to get stuck in.”
His identification and development of some of the best professional cycling talent over the past decade is well-recognised. Ellingworth officially begins at Team Bahrain-Merida in October but in the interim he will be working with the team’s leadership to plan for 2020 and beyond.
Founded by Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, representative of His Majesty the King for Charity Works and Youth Affairs, Supreme Council for Youth and Sports chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee president, the team has been supported by a number of local businesses too and cycles in Bahrain’s national colours.
The aim has been to help elevate the country into the global consciousness again, alongside the kingdom’s Formula One endeavours. The team, consisting of pro-cyclists from a plethora of countries and continents and participates in a variety of UCI events.
GM Brent Copeland continues with the team in his current role, and he will work with Ellingworth to determine the ‘most effective’ future processes and structures.
The team has had some recent successes, notably in May with rider Jan Tratnik proving himself the most skilled rider on a technical course to take victory in the prologue stage at the Tour de Romandie, as reported in GulfWeekly.
The Slovenian overcame strong competition on the opening day in Switzerland, finishing a second ahead of defending champion Primož Roglič. Tratnik took the leader’s jersey with Roglič, the best placed general classification contender in second, while reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) came fifth at just four seconds down.
The triumphant Tratnik said at the time: “It was really special, my first World Tour win and my first in a Bahrain-Merida jersey!”
McLaren Group, partly-owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, is globally-renowned as one of the world’s most illustrious high-technology brands and become a 50 per cent joint venture partner in Team Bahrain Merida in December 2018.
The partnership is rooted in three key areas: technical collaboration, human high-performance and marketing and commercial services, delivered through McLaren Applied Technologies and the group’s marketing specialists.
The move signalled the continued ambition of the McLaren Group to innovate at the intersection of technology and human endeavour, and reflected the ‘collective vision’ of its Bahraini ownership to unite its investments in sport and technology through McLaren and Team Bahrain Merida.
McLaren Applied Technologies undertakes challenging projects that naturally fit with McLaren’s skills, experience and technical capacity. Competition, racing and the combination of athlete and machine are the lifeblood of McLaren’s 50-year-plus history and cycling is one of the rawest examples of all those elements coming together.
Getting former Team Sky performance director Ellingworth is considered quite a coup by the cycling media. He had worked with Team Sky since its creation in 2010, playing a part in their Tour de France victories, and also taking on several roles in British Cycling, where he left his position as the men’s national team coach last year.
Mark Cavendish is one of the many riders who has been influenced by Ellingworth with the former Tour de France winner stating in several interviews that he had learned a lot from Ellingworth … and not only about cycling. Ellingworth worked on Cavendish’s hill climbing by motorcycling up a hill and making him chase him to the top.
Following the decision by British media company, Sky UK, not to renew sponsorship, the team secured financial support from the British chemicals group Ineos, with the team thereby renamed as Team INEOS since April.
Ellingworth is currently on gardening leave from Team Ineos, having worked alongside GM Dave Brailsford since their British Cycling days, and will officially leave over the summer. He is no longer listed on the team’s website.
The 46-year-old will now go up against his old boss in WorldTour races and will find himself with similar financial backing. One source close to the squad said there were plans to apply F1-level analytics to cycling and that the squad has ambitions to be ‘the Han Solo to Ineos’s Darth Vader’.
Cycling Weekly also reported that rider Chris Froome had said losing Ellingworth would be a ‘big blow’ for the team. “Rod’s been there from the very start for me, even before the Team Sky days,” Froome said. “It is a big blow. Suddenly we’re going to miss Rod Ellingworth at Team Ineos going forward.
“We obviously wish him all the best, he’s only going to keep adding a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new team in the future.”
Delighted John Allert, the MD of McLaren Pro Cycling, and a board director of McLaren Racing, said: “Rod’s appointment as team principal of Team Bahrain-Merida underscores our determination to succeed at the top level of this great sport.
“His remarkable track record, coupled with the respect he has earned throughout the cycling community, make Rod the perfect leader for this next chapter in the team’s development.
“Despite his abundant experience, Rod’s voracious appetite for new knowledge and innovative approaches to traditional challenges perfectly complements the team ethos. We are delighted to welcome him to the team.”