herald

Thursday 24 January 2019

The sky finally falls in

Owners pull plug on richest team in cycling

Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas celebrates his Tour de France victory
Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas celebrates his Tour de France victory

The future of Team Sky is in doubt after their principal backer announced it would end its ownership and sponsorship at the end of 2019.

Team Sky have been among the most successful teams in the sport over their nine-year history to date, winning 322 races, including eight Grand Tours. They delivered the first ever British winner of the Tour de France in Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and have gone on to win six of the last seven editions.

But yesterday morning Sky announced it would walk away next year, with the decision coming in the wake of a £30billion takeover by US cable TV company Comcast earlier this year.

Team Sky had appeared confident that takeover would have little impact on them, and in recent months handed new long-term contracts to Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas and 21-year-old emerging talent Egan Bernal.

It's understood Sky's decision came as a shock to Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, with staff and riders told during a training camp in Mallorca.

In a statement, Brailsford indicated the team would look for new partners.

"While Sky will be moving on at the end of next year, the team is open-minded about the future and the potential of working with a new partner, should the right opportunity present itself," Brailsford said.

"For now, I would like to thank all Team Sky riders and staff, past and present - and above all the fans who have supported us on this adventure.

"We aren't finished yet by any means. There is another exciting year of racing ahead of us."

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 as Sky, who made them the best funded in the sport, seems slim.

Team Sky's budget was estimated to be around £37million last season.

Team Sky was launched in 2010 with the goal of winning the Tour de France with a British rider within five years.

They delivered with Wiggins' 2012 success before Chris Froome won the first of his four Tour titles in 2013. Froome's Giro d'Italia win this year made him the first rider in more than 30 years to hold all three Grand Tour winners' jerseys simultaneously.

Success

In the summer Geraint Thomas became the third Team Sky rider to win the Tour de France, the team's sixth success at the race in seven years.

However, the team have faced plenty of controversy. Froome was the subject of an anti-doping case after his La Vuelta win last year, though it was dropped.

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.

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 that any drug had been used without medical need and hit out at the process, saying it was "so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts".

Team Sky also have plenty of detractors within cycling for tactics which many believe stifle racing.

Their superior budget has allowed them to employ riders who would be leaders elsewhere in a support capacity and effectively shut down attacks in the biggest races, something which has proved unpopular with many, particularly at the Tour de France.

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