Team Sky could be nearing the end of the road but Chris Froome believes the need to find new backing to save the team can serve as extra motivation in 2019.
The four-time Tour de France winner was speaking after broadcaster Sky – which owns and sponsors Team Sky – announced on Wednesday morning it would end its investment in professional cycling next year, plunging the future of the team into doubt.
Press Association Sport understands Sky’s decision came as a ‘shock’ to team principal Sir Dave Brailsford, with the team’s riders and staff only informed on Tuesday night at the start of a training camp in Mallorca.
Speaking on Sky Sports News, Froome said the news “came as a surprise” but insisted another season of success should be enough to convince new backers to come on board.
“The team has been incredibly successful and I’ve got every confidence that if the team carries on and delivers another season which has been on a par with previous years we should be able to find a new sponsor,” he said.
“We’ve got a year to replace (Sky). That’s not really for us as riders to be doing but it will be at the back of our minds and if anything will serve as extra motivation for us.”
Brailsford has set a deadline of the start of next year’s Tour de France in July to provide “clarity” on the future of the team, but must find new backers who are willing to look beyond the controversies which have dogged Team Sky in recent years and focus instead on their success.
Since launching in 2010, Team Sky have been among the most successful in the sport, winning 322 races including eight Grand Tours.
They delivered the first ever British winner of the Tour de France in Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and have won six of the last seven editions.
Last year was arguably their most successful to date, highlighted by two Grand Tour victories as Froome won the Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas the Tour de France.
But their brand has taken a battering in recent years. Starting in 2016, the UK Anti-Doping Agency conducted a 14-month investigation into a ‘mystery package’ delivered to then-team doctor Richard Freeman on the final day of the Criterium du Dauphine – won by Wiggins – in 2011, but was unable to determine its contents.
A Parliamentary committee which held hearings into the case found the team had crossed an ‘ethical line’ by using the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone to prepare for major races. The substance is banned in competition but legal out of it. Wiggins denied any substance was used without medical need.
And Froome was the subject of an anti-doping case after his win in La Vuelta last year, though it was dropped by the UCI a week before the start of this year’s Tour.
As the problems mounted, Brailsford faced increasing pressure regarding his own position, but retained the support of Sky throughout, and the company – which ended an eight-year partnership with British Cycling in 2016 – insisted its decision was unrelated.
Froome said he saw no reason for potential new sponsors to be discouraged.
“With any team there are going to be hiccups along the way, but I think people now know who we are, how we work and we’ve certainly shown everything is above board in the team, and we’re proud of that,” he said.
Sky’s decision comes in the wake of a £30billion takeover by US cable company Comcast. Although Team Sky chairman Graham McWilliam insisted the decision was Sky’s and did not come from the new owners, Brailsford claimed he had not in fact been surprised by the news given the change at the company.
“You know in life change often leads to change,” he said. “Let’s face it, the reality of the situation with Sky and the environment and everything else. Did it come as a surprise? No, not really.”
However, Sky have certainly not acted like a team with an uncertain future in recent months and had spoken of having secured funding until 2024.
In the past few months they have handed a new three-year contract to Thomas, and a five-year deal to emerging talent Egan Bernal, a highly unusual length of deal in the volatile world of cycling.
As they trained in Mallorca on Wednesday, riders did their best to portray it as business as usual.
Wholesale changes of sponsorship and backing are common in road cycling, and Sky’s 10-year association is a long one by comparison to most.
But the likelihood of the team finding backers with the same deep pockets of Sky, who have ploughed more than £150million into the team, seems slim given the struggle other successful teams like Quick-Step Floors and BMC Racing have faced when seeking new sponsors of their own.
It is a challenge that Brailsford insisted he was ready to embrace.
“Every change brings opportunity,” he said. “We like to build things, we’re creators, we build. From our point of view I see it very much as an opportunity.”
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