Team Sky’s future in doubt after broadcaster pulls backing
LONDON — The future of the most successful cycling team of the last decade was put in doubt Wednesday when Sky announced its withdrawal from the sport following the European pay TV giant’s takeover by American company Comcast.
Team Sky, which had a rider win the Tour de France this year for the sixth time in seven races, will compete under a different name from 2020 if new backers can be found, according to Sky.
“The end of 2019 is the right time for us to move on as we open a new chapter in Sky’s story and turn our focus to different initiatives,” Sky group chief executive Jeremy Darroch said.
The team was reliant on 25.3 million pounds ($32 million) in title sponsorship in 2017 from Sky and 21st Century Fox, which had owned the largest stake in the broadcaster.
Philadelphia-based Comcast outbid Fox in September to win control of Sky, which runs television services in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. Fox, which has a 15 percent stake in Team Sky, is also pulling out of cycling. Sky owns the remaining 85 percent of the team through Tour Racing Ltd.
“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,” Team Sky general manager Dave Brailsford said.
Team Sky was established in 2009 by Brailsford, the brains behind Britain’s 14 medals in cycling at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the target of producing the country’s first Tour de France champion.
Bradley Wiggins won the Tour in 2012 but was later beset by controversies that engulfed the team. A British parliamentary committee said earlier this year that Team Sky crossed “the ethical line” over the use of a therapeutic use exemption to allow Wiggins to take a powerful corticosteroid to prepare for the 2012 Tour. Wiggins and Sky denied wrongdoing.
“The vision for Team Sky began with the ambition to build a clean, winning team around a core of British riders and staff,” Brailsford said. “The team’s success has been the result of the talent, dedication and hard work of a remarkable group of people who have constantly challenged themselves to scale new heights of performance. None of this would have been possible without Sky.”
Only one other team since 2012, Astana with Vincenzo Nibali, has won the Tour de France title as Chris Froome won four times and Geraint Thomas once.
“What they have achieved together would have been beyond the dreams of many just a few years ago,” Darroch said. “We thank you for joining with us on this journey and look forward to enjoying our last season of racing together.”
Brailsford is not looking beyond then, 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,” he said. “We aren’t finished yet by any means. There is another exciting year of racing ahead of us and we will be doing everything we can to deliver more Team Sky success in 2019.”