Team Sky Loses Its Sponsorship
The future of cycling giant Team Sky was thrown into doubt on Wednesday after British media company Sky announced that it will end its sponsorship of the team.
Team Sky has clocked up eight Grand Tour wins, including six at the Tour de France, since its formation in 2010. But it has also been plunged into controversy for using special exemptions to administer drugs that can enhance performance.
The outfit, which has 322 wins in total, will operate for its last season as Team Sky next year, though it could continue under a different name after 2019 if a new backer is found, according to a team statement.
“The vision for Team Sky began with the ambition to build a clean, winning team around a core of British riders and staff,” team principal Dave Brailsford said. “We are proud of the part we have played in Britain’s transformation into a cycling nation over the last decade.”
He added, “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.”
Sky’s announcement closes an extraordinary chapter in cycling that began with the dream of creating Britain’s first Tour de France champion. Bradley Wiggins made that reality in 2012, before Chris Froome won four Tour de France titles and Geraint Thomas became Sky’s third Tour winner this year.
Froome responded to the news by insisting his team expects to return stronger than ever with a new backer after next season.
“We are not finished yet by any means,” he wrote in a statement posted from his Twitter account. “Everyone at Team Sky has got big ambitions for 2019 and this news has made us more determined than ever to make them happen.”
What a journey it has been! Thank you Sky 💙
Let’s make 2019 the best year yet 👊 pic.twitter.com/SwaoBKknAm
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) December 12, 2018
Deep-pocketed Sky is known for Brailsford’s meticulous application of “marginal gains,” the theory that small advantages in areas as diverse as wind resistance, diet, and sleep quality can add up to a significant improvement in performance.
However, Sky’s image was clouded in the controversy over so-called therapeutic use exemptions, after a damning British parliamentary report this year said the team crossed an “ethical line” by using the loophole to administer drugs to enhance performance.
The report said British lawmakers believed that triamcinolone, used to treat asthma, “was being used to prepare Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France… The purpose of this was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race.”
Sky was also in the crosshairs for a suspected anti-doping violation over a mystery package reportedly destined for Wiggins in 2011, although investigators never brought charges against him or the team.
Sky was then caught in a long-running doping controversy that began when Froome failed a drug test for elevated levels of the asthma medication salbutamol on his way to victory in the Vuelta a España in 2017. He was cleared 10 months later.
The team also has plenty of detractors within cycling, with critics arguing that its tactics stifle racing. Its superior budget has allowed Sky to employ riders in a support capacity who would otherwise be leaders elsewhere, effectively shutting down attacks in the biggest races.
Sky, the media company, began its involvement with the sport in 2008, when it partnered with British Cycling to increase participation and support the country’s elite riders – who went on to become a major force at world events, including the Olympic Games and the Tour de France.
“We came into cycling with the aim of using elite success to inspire greater participation at all levels,” said Jeremy Darroch, Sky’s group chief executive. “After more than a decade of involvement, I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved with Team Sky and our long-standing partners at British Cycling.”