Sky's decision to end its ownership and sponsorship of Team Sky after 2019 has sparked widespread reports and speculation about the future of the team, with today's La Gazzetta dello Sport suggesting that a US millionaire could soon buy Tour Racing Limited – the management company that owns and operates the team, and also sponsor the team.
Dave Brailsford would continue to manage the team and rider's current contracts would be respected, giving the new owner control of the strongest Grand Tour team in the sport. La Gazzetta dello Sport also claimed that, despite ending it's backing, Sky is ready to cover 70 per cent of the team's budget for 2020 and 2021.
A number of Team Sky riders signed new contracts in recent months, including 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, who extended until the end of 2021, and Colombian climber Egan Bernal, who signed a five-year extension after this year's Tour de France. Team leader Chris Froome's current deal runs until the end of 2020.
According to a letter given to Team Sky staff and seen by Cyclingnews, Sky has said everyone at the team would be "properly looked after."
Team Sky refused to comment on the reports, also preferring not to respond to speculation that they are in talks with Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams to merge Team Sky with the Israel Cycling Academy team. The man behind the proposed new Chinese team, Tim Kay, also told Cyclingnews in December that he would be interested in merging with Team Sky.
When Sky first announced their decision on December 12, Brailsford said the team was "open minded about the future and the potential of working with a new partner, should the right opportunity present itself."
In the Sunday Times, David Walsh recently suggested Team Sky and Brailsford have lost much of their credibility due to the infamous jiffy bag scandal, the ordering of testosterone patches currently being investigated by the British Medical Council and Bradley Wiggins' use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions to take triamcinolone before Grand Tours. However, Walsh also believed that Brailsford was in talks with luxury brand LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) – that previously looked to buy Rapha - as one of two possible replacements for Team Sky.
Brailsford knows that he has just a few months to secure the future of the team before his leading riders begin to search for new teams but appeared upbeat when the news emerged.
"I can't give any guarantees, but I'd like to think there are opportunities out there," he told ITV television. "We've got 12 months ahead of us, and I am sure we will have a future going forward."
Thomas could add the Giro d'Italia to 2019 race programme
La Gazzetta dello Sport also claimed that Geraint Thomas could add the Giro d'Italia to his 2019 race programme, despite already naming a second consecutive victory at the the Tour de France as his major goal of 2019.
The respected Italian sports newspaper, that is owned by the same company that organises the Giro d'Italia, suggested that a formal announcement of Thomas' presence at the Corsa Rosa could made on January 24 at a special event organised by Italian businessman and cycling enthusiast Elvio Chiatellino in Pinerolo.
Chiatellino has funded stages of the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in the Piemonte area in the past and is keen to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the legendary Cuneo-Pinerolo stage of the Giro d'Italia won by Fausto Coppi. Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome and Dave Brailsford are expected to attend the event, with Thomas as a surprise guest.
Thomas is currently training in California and will return to Europe to attend a special event in Cardiff on January 26. Thomas has said he has "unfinished business" at the Giro d'Italia after crashing out of the race in 2017. Team Sky refused to confirm or deny a change in Thomas' Grand Tour plans.
Team Sky announced that both Froome and Thomas would target the Tour de France in 2019, with Bernal and Gianni Moscon selected for the Giro d'Italia. La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested that Thomas could be tempted by the presence of 58.5km of time trialling in the Giro d'Italia route.
Thomas would face Simon Yates (Michelton-Scott), Mikel Landa (Movistar), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) on the roads of Italy, if he decided to ride the Giro d'Italia, with the two former winners also going on to ride the Tour de France.