Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford has told Cyclingnews he will not bow to outside pressure and finalise a new contract with Chris Froome during the Vuelta a España so that negotiations do not affect the Kenyan-born Briton's performance in the final stages of the race.
Brailsford arrived on the Vuelta on Thursday, with reports that eight major teams are now interested in signing Froome after his breakthrough performance in Spain. The 26-year-old is just 13 seconds behind race leader Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) and has a chance of taking the red jersey because of the time bonuses on offer during the final stages.
Brailsford is expected to talk with Froome's agent Alex Carera in Spain in the next few days but does not want anything to distract Froome from his racing.
"If you want to be a successful team and move forward, then these are the types of problems you want to have. Then you choose how you manage that," Brailsford told Cyclingnews.
"You wouldn't go to the Olympic Games and start talking to Sir Chris Hoy about his contract the night before he races. I flatly refuse to do it. What I've said to Chris is that he will be staying at this team, we will find a solution, but he should concentrate on what is a breakthrough performance. I've told him to put all his efforts into his race and moving his career forward in that sense, without having to worry about his contract. I don't think there could be anything more adverse to do in such a critical period.
"What we're concerned with at the moment is the last three days of the Vuelta, that he maintains or betters his second place overall. We hope to have two guys on the final podium in Madrid and that's what we’re focused on. All the talk around him and where he could be going is not helpful for him or for us. When the time’s right, when the race is done, we'll sit down and talk about the next thing, when he's in a better frame of mind to do it. I think that's the way to do it."
Brailsford is realistic enough to know that it will be difficult to topple Cobo in the final three stages of the Vuelta but he insisted that the team will keep fighting. Cobo is worried Team Sky may go on the offensive during Friday's 19th stage to Bilbao, with Froome attacking on the last steep climb just 14km from the finish.
"It's going to be difficult. 13 seconds sounds a little but given the stages that are left, it's a lot," Brailsford said. "But you never say never and we'll keep on fighting."
Rumours link Fabian Cancellara to Team Sky
With Team Sky considered one of the super teams of cycling, with strong sponsorship in place for the long-term, the British squad is often linked to the biggest names in the sport.
Mark Cavendish is widely expected to join Team Sky after the demise of the HTC-Highroad team and rumours coming out of Italy have now linked Fabian Cancellara to the team for 2012.
Cancellara is under contract with the management company that runs the Leopard Trek team and which will run the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team in 2012 after the merger of the two teams.
When asked if he had talked to Cancellara, Brailsford laughed loudly, saying: "We've got to find the money to sign a new superstar Froome. We’ll do that before we look anywhere else."
"We're happy with the team that we've got and the team's performances. You're always looking to strengthen it but I think we're getting a core group of young riders in the team and that was always our aim. Now we want to develop that group together over the next three or four years and see them gel and blend. That's what our strategy is going to be."
Asked if that that core group would include Mark Cavendish, Brailsford stayed silent, without a smile or any hint of body language revealing if the Isle of Man sprinter will be wearing the black and blue Team Sky colours in 2012.