Mercedes back Schleck's Tour de France yellow jersey bid

Plus Cannondale become title sponsors of Liquigas team for 2011

Andy Schleck's bid to win the Tour de France yellow jersey has been given a boost after his new team signed a sponsorship deal with Mercedes-Benz Luxembourg.

Schleck announced he would be leaving Saxo Bank shortly after finishing runner-up to Spain's Alberto Contador in the Tour for the second year in a row last July.

Contador, a three-time champion, signed a deal that will take him from Astana to Saxo Bank, although today it was announced the Spaniard had been provisionally suspended after testing positive for clenbuterol.

Schleck, meanwhile, will be the marquee rider for the Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project, a new team that includes his older brother Frank Schleck and a line-up of 25 pro riders.

Mercedes-Benz Luxembourg will supply a fleet of cars, mini-buses, trucks and luxury buses to the new squad, which is the first of its kind from the tiny landlocked Duchy.

A top Mercedes official, Gerhard Roth, said in a statement: "We look forward to... supporting the ambitious goal of winning the Tour de France for Luxembourg with this new team.”

Brian Nygaard, general manager of the Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project, said: "We’re an international team with a deep commitment to Luxembourg. A big part of our fanbase is here, our riders Andy and Frank Schleck live here with their families, and now, we’ll also have our partner Mercedes-Benz Luxembourg, which has been firmly connected to the country and its people for more than 100 years."

© AFP 2010

Cannondale become title sponsors of Liquigas team

In other ProTour team news, Cannondale have today announced they're stepping up to become co-title sponsors of the Italian Liquigas squad, after supplying them with bikes for the past four years. Liquigas-Cannondale will be launched on 1 January 2011. 

"The past four years we've been involved with Liquigas we've primarily been the technical sponsors, so we've worked with the athletes and worked technically on the bikes, but as we've progressed that relationship we've spent more time with the team," Cannondale general manager Bob Burbank told Cyclingnews. 

"The team and Cannondale have gotten closer and closer together and this was that next logical step. We really pride ourselves on working incredibly and in direct connection with the pro athletes. We want to have that very connected, intimate relationship with the athlete because when the athlete performs at the highest level with our products, typically we get the win together."

Burbank said the two parties will now work much more closely to develop new products – similar to the model that Cervélo TestTeam had, until recently, run since 2008.

"Liquigas was known as a very European, very old-school Italian team with very little outside influence," he said.  "We did work very closely with the athletes but a lot of the products were developed using some of our other global athletes. Now what we've done is integrated them into our product development process, whereas three or four years ago it wasn't that type of relationship. 

"Earlier on in the process, typically we'd bring them in after concepts were done for colours, graphics and component design, whereas now, we'll have them involved right from the get-go in the process to get their feedback on frame stiffness, performance and exactly what they're looking for for that next innovation in product."

Burbank wouldn't say whether Cannondale riders were already working on future products. Nor would he, or any other company officials, comment on the exact terms of the contract – including its duration.

However, he did mention that the company intends to grow the stature of the Liquigas-Cannondale team and expand the roster to include more non-Italian riders. "Our vision of this team is to become more of a global team – there will be at least one American athlete on this team moving forward," he said.

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