One of the most successful teams in professional cycling history is looking for a new sponsor after Sky announced its ownership and sponsorship of Team Sky will cease at the end of 2019.
Broadcaster Sky helped found Team Sky in 2010 and, over the last eight years, the team has won six Tour de France titles with British riders Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
However, the team has come under criticism for its use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) with an inquiry being launched by Britain’s Parliament to investigate whether the team had been guilty of any doping offenses.
“Over the past nine seasons, Sky has backed us all the way, enabling us to achieve some amazing results and inspire millions of people to love our sport,” said the Team Sky statement. “We’d like to thank Sky for all of their support, and in particular the opportunity to help Britain become a cycling nation.
“First things first, nothing changes for next year. Sky are fully committed to the end of 2019 and together we have ambitious goals for the season. We all want to close the Team Sky story with the strongest possible finish. We are more motivated as a Team than we have ever been.”
The team hopes to secure new sponsorship for 2020 but finding a replacement willing to match the previous investment may prove difficult. Sky had invested $188 million into the team over the last ten years, according to the Guardian.
“In terms of the future, we are open minded. If we can find a new long-term partner to take the Team forward into a new era, then we will do so,” the statement continued.
“And we will be doing everything we can to make that happen over the coming weeks and months. Equally, any future partner would have to be the right partner – one who shares our ethos and buys in to our values.”
If a replacement is not found, Team Sky’s impressive roster of riders will be looking for new teams.
“Teams would love to snap those guys up,” said cycling expert and broadcaster John Woodhouse, who has covered the Tour de France for 20 years.
“They would love to have those guys on their rota. Chris Froome has got another Tour in him, if not two.”
Team Sky was formed with a clear ambition to build a successful outfit around a core of British riders and staff. They succeed in winning the Tour de France with a British rider for the first time in 2012 and also secured victories at the 2018 Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana in 2016.
But the team’s darkest moment came in 2016, when the UK Anti-Doping agency (UKAD) launched an investigation over a parcel delivered to star rider Wiggins in 2011.
The team was condemned for manipulating regulations and their popularity was severally damaged worldwide. A report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the team had crossed an “ethical line.”
More bad news followed when fellow Team Sky rider Chris Froome was subject to a doping investigation in 2017. He was found to have more than the permissible level of asthma drug salbutamol in his urine in 2012 but was later cleared of all charges.
Sky deny the controversy surrounding doping allegations as the reason for pulling out of the partnership but Woodhouse believes it might be a factor.
“We have to factor in that maybe Sky weren’t getting the headlines that they wanted from the sport,” he said to CNN Sport, while admitting that Sky may have taken cycling as far as they could.
“When you look at the reaction on the road, it’s a very negative reaction to Team Sky. That’s generating a lot of headlines that Sky don’t need. You don’t want the team you sponsor to be tainted in anyway.”
Sky’s Group Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said the organization would now focus on new projects, including the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign which looks to raise awareness of the dangers of single-use plastics.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved with Team Sky and our long-standing partners at British Cycling,” Darroch said in a statement.
“But 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.”