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Bjarne Riis today finally put an end to speculation about the future of his team's sponsor and its leader Ivan Basso, announcing that both the CSC company and Italian Tour star had committed to the team until 2009.
At a press conference in Lescar, where Riis signed the new three-year sponsorship deal with CSC and their legal director Gawie Nienaber late on Sunday night, the Danish team boss declared his ambition to become "the best team in the world". Riis said that CSC had agreed to provide a budget which would enable him to achieve this objective. Riis refused to disclose the actual value of the sponsorship agreement but it is believed to total at least eight million euros per year.
Nienaber also revealed that CSC will be the team's sole headline sponsor.
Naturally, Basso will receive a sizeable chunk of Riis's new kitty. The Italian's renegotiated salary of around 1.3 million euros may be considerably less than the 27 year old could have earned with Discovery Channel, but it is around three times what he currently takes home. Even discounting a lucrative bonus structure, the Italian will probably leap to second place in the league table of cycling's highest earners in 2006, behind only Jan Ullrich.
"Last night I knew that Bjarne was negotiating with three lawyers from CSC but I didn't get involved," Basso explained on Monday. "Then, this morning he came to see me and said: 'Everything's OK with sponsor, here's my offer, do you want to carry on?' I called my wife, talked to her, then gave Bjarne my answer. I'm not saying that I accepted his first offer but it didn't take long.
"I've spoken with teams in the past who conducted negotiations like an auction, starting from 10, then going to 15, then going to 20 and so on. Then there are team managers who ask you want you think you are worth and, when you say 10, they say that they'll give you 15... Bjarne is someone who knows what riders are worth."
Asked whether he had demanded reinforcements to assist his Tour bid next year, Basso revealed that he had asked for room-mate Giovanni Lombardi's contract to be extended at the end of the year.
Riis later hinted that his close relationship with Basso and their success together since the Italian joined CSC last year, more than money, clinched Basso's signature.
"I think the relationship we have is very important," Riis reflected. "We have proved that we work well together and that we are on the right track. We have progressed a lot over the past two years and when something isn't broke, there's no need to fix it. I must admit that I wouldn't have been nice to lose Ivan and everything that we have been building together for the past two years."
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