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A perfect storm in Norway

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One of the more fun news out of the Tour de France was the announcement of the plans that ex-pro Thor Hushovd is planning to launch a Norwegian based World Tour team, perhaps as early as the 2017 season. Rumors are now swirling about developments that could turn this into the definite official favorite team of the Podiumcafe. The key ingredient: Salmon.

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So far the details on the project are pretty scarce. Hushovd has simply announced his intentions but so far it doesn't appear as if there are too many concrete pieces in place. Hushovd has a strong network in Norway of course after a long career that has established him as one of the most respected athletes, even including their multitude of winter sport heroes. He is also already involved in a smaller development Continental team and of course Norway is one of the absolutely wealthiest countries in Europe with a booming oil&gas-driven economy. So the potential is obviously there but it does seem that Hushovd's announcement was something of an advertisement to attract willing sponsors rather than an indication that any of the key finances for the project are already in place.

Even in wealthy Norway, finding a major sponsor that can carry a WT team is no small matter, smaller co-sponsors that can help is probably not a huge problem but finding that one pillar to build the rest around could prove troublesome and given the short timeframe, having the team running for the 2017 season when among other things Norway is hosting the cycling World Championships, makes this probably more tricky than the first happy reactions indicate. I'd be more impressed if Hushovd had more concrete plans to reveal given the Alonso debacle we've just witnessed. Already some major businesses in Norway have said thanks but no thanks to taking on such a massive investment. And this is where things get interesting for the Podiumcafe and it's salmon-loving Generalissimo Chris. The one big company besides Thor's long term partner, the supermarket chain REMA 1000, that hasn't ruled out playing a part is Marine Harvest, a major player in the farming and processing of salmon worldwide. Fish has always been one of the main  industries of Norway and Marine Harvest is the biggest player. When the oil people weren't interested the Norwegian journalists were quick to pounce on the fish people to see if they were keen to get behind Hushovd and it sounds as if they just might be. Suffice to say, if there is a Thor-led Salmon team on the World Tour, cheering for them might just become mandatory if Chris has any say. He'd probably be ok with salmon-pink jerseys too actually.

In reality things are probably happening more behind the scenes than in the media. At this point it is really hard to gauge how realistic any of this is, only Thor and his advisers know. Many seem to have been taken aback by the news, like the president of the Norwegian cycling federation who didn't know about the plans before, which is a slight concern to me. Presumably they would have to have the main financing in place fairly soon as well, by Christmas at the latest if they are to have any chance of getting the license application and recruitment started in time to have a team up and running in January 2017. Even then they may be cutting it a bit tight given the amount of WT points-carrying riders they need to sign. The list of WT candidates isn't as stacked as it used to be so chances of getting a license look decent if they can just find the number of points to qualify. Plus Norway is a key market that the UCI would probably gladly embrace with one of the fastest growing fanbases (along with the UK), flush with emerging talent and not least lots of money.

This could be the major transfer saga of the upcoming year just as the Alonso team was before. Hopefully the plans will become more concrete and openly communicated than they were in the Alonso case so it doesn't end up the same way. For cycling in Norway and Scandinavia, a new major team could be a major boost.