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Sky to end investment in professional cycling and Team Sky

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Sky has announced it is ending its long-standing involvement in professional cycling and Team Sky at the end of 2019, a move which could see the troubled team cease to exist after next season.

Sir Dave Brailsford, the team principal, was informed of Sky’s decision to end their ownership and sponsorship of the team last week. He was said to be shocked at the news.

Riders, including four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, were told of the decision overnight in Mallorca where Team Sky are located for a winter training camp.

It is one of the only occasions the riders are all gathered in the same location. The intention of Sky is to find a new owner and sponsor to take over the team before the 2020 season but it remains to be seen whether there will be a viable buyer.

It will bring an end to Sky’s investment in the team, which has totalled more than £150m over the last 10 years and made Team Sky comfortably the richest outfit in world cycling.

Bradley Wiggins celebrates his 2012 Tour de France win
Image:
Bradley Wiggins celebrates his 2012 Tour de France win

It has brought them six Tour de France titles in seven years including Bradley Wiggins’ historic 2012 victory, the first for a British rider.

Sky executives are understood to have told Team Sky bosses they felt the partnership had come to a natural conclusion after a decade.

But there will be undoubtedly be questions from those who believe the brand has been irretrievably damaged by a string of high-profile controversies over the past two years.

Team Sky’s gravest problems came to light in October 2016 when it was revealed they were being investigated by the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) in relation to a mystery jiffy bag package delivered to Wiggins at the Criterium du Dauphine race in 2011.

When questioned by the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee, Brailsford insisted the package contained the legal decongestant Fluimucil but was unable to provide substantive proof.

In 2017, UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead revealed the team’s former medic, Dr Richard Freeman, had not kept proper records of the prescription drugs he gave to riders. Investigators discovered Dr Freeman kept all records on a laptop he claimed was stolen while on holiday in Greece in 2014.

A report by the DCMS committee following the enquiry was damning in its assessment of Team Sky.

The MPs determined that Team Sky had manipulated the anti-doping system to allow the administration of performance enhancing drugs in the lead-up to the 2012 Tour de France.

They said that both Wiggins and Team Sky had “crossed an ethical line”.

The team also had to defend its star rider Chris Froome when it was reported he had returned an adverse finding to a doping test at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, which he went on to win.

The urine sample indicated more than the permitted dose of Salbutamol, an asthma medication, in his system. However, an investigation by the UCI, cycling’s world governing body, said it was satisfied he did not return an adverse finding.

Despite brief respite from the gloom with a maiden Tour de France victory for the popular Welshman Geraint Thomas last summer, Sky executives would admit the past two years of their partnership have been more difficult than the previous eight.

But they insist the cloud which lingers over the team was not the reason for terminating its involvement.

Team Sky was founded in 2009 and has always been led by Brailsford, who was previously performance director at British Cycling and led Great Britain to 38 medals over three Olympic Games.

He delivered on his promise of a first British Tour de France winner and Team Sky has transformed the professional cycling landscape.

But the 54-year-old also founded the team on an ethos of zero tolerance policy to drugs and total transparency and some commentators believe he has failed to deliver on that mission statement.

Uniting his team amid such uncertainty about both his own and their future could be the biggest challenge of his leadership so far.

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