(AFP) – The future of Team Sky was thrown into doubt on Wednesday after British media company Sky announced it was ending a partnership that has delivered six Tour de France titles in the past seven years.
Team Sky have clocked up eight Grand Tour wins since their formation, but they have also been plunged into controversy for using special exemptions to administer drugs that can enhance performance.
The outfit, which has 322 wins in total since 2010, will operate for the last season as Team Sky in 2019 and could continue under a different name if a new backer is found, a Sky statement said.
Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford is confident he can keep his group at the top of the sport regardless of their suddenly uncertain future.
“Every change brings opportunity. We like to build things, we’re creators, we build. From our point of view I see it very much as an opportunity,” Brailsford told Sky Sports News.
Insisting he wasn’t caught unawares by the announcement, Brailsford added: “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.
“We started out with ambition, thinking: ‘could we win the Tour de France in five years?’
“Who’d have thought then that 10 years later we’d be looking at our 10th season.”
Sky’s announcement closes an extraordinary chapter in cycling that began with the dream of creating Britain’s first Tour de France champion — which seemed overly ambitious at the time.
But Bradley Wiggins made it reality in 2012, before Chris Froome won four Tour de France titles and Geraint Thomas became Sky’s third winner of cycling’s landmark event this year.
Froome responded to the news by insisting his team expect to return stronger than ever with a new backer.
“We are not finished yet by any means. Everyone at Team Sky has got big ambitions for 2019 and this news has made us more determined than ever to make them happen,” Froome wrote on his Twitter account.
“I can’t predict the future but I can say this with absolute certainty, this is a really special team.
“We plan to be together in 2020 if at all possible and we will all be doing everything we can to help make that happen – in different colours with a new partner but the same values, focus and desire to win.”