Team Sky unveiled a contingent of six British riders on Wednesday as the first members of the new squad. Chris Froome, Stephen Cummings, Geraint Thomas, Russell Downing, Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard have all signed one to three-year contracts with the new team
Team principal Dave Brailsford told Cyclingnews that more signings will follow in the coming days. "This project has been two to three years in the making and here we are, naming riders and making this a reality. It’s hugely satisfying to announce this batch of British rider. It’s massive moment for us."
The team will consist of roughly twenty-five riders and although none of riders announced today currently ride for ProTour teams, Brailsford believes that they have the capabilities to race with the best in the world.
"There’s no chance that these riders are on the team just because of their passport. That would have been a real own-goal for us. Geraint rode the Tour [de France] and Steve rode with Discovery, Chris has the ability and Ian, likewise. I have confidence in Peter and Russell too. The idea of getting in just because of the passport would have harmed us attracting some the world’s best riders too," Brailsford said.
Team Sky, who have yet to confirm ProTour status for their inaugural season, will aim to compete in the world's leading races, including the Tour de France, with Brailsford already stating that the biggest aim is to see a British rider win the yellow jersey.
"When we said we were going to try and win the Tour people thought it was a long shot and I got a lot of correspondence saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about," said Brailsford. "But looking at the performance at this year’s Tour it’s brilliant timing, with Bradley’s [Wiggins] and Mark’s [Cavendish] performances showing what can be done and what can we done clean. Okay, it’s a huge task to win the Tour, but I don’t think people are saying it’s impossible now."
Scott Sunderland, Sports Manager for Team Sky also added his enthusiasm on the British riders announced today. "It's a pretty good feeling for the Team to announce some of our signings. The excitement has been building up and most fans have already formed their own idea of who might be or not be on the team. It's great to share some more information on the project with them now."
Team Sky's first six riders:
Russell Downing (31, CandiTV)
Downing, a signing from CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta, will race at the Tour of Britain this week and was signed off the back of his impressive performance at the Tour of Ireland. The 31-year-old won a stage and the overall, despite fierce competition from Team Columbia and Saxo Bank. The signing marks significant step up in Downing’s career after he was involved in the ill-fated Linda McCartney squad in 2001.
"He's delighted. [Team Sky] was Russ' number one choice. This whole British thing is really exciting and if you're a British rider you'd be really choked if you weren't with this new venture," said Phil Griffiths, Downing's manager.
"Everybody thinks 'great, a position on a prestigious team', but the important thing is the program. He's already proven that with good legs and can ride with the best, so [his] program will be the important thing. We thought there was going to be a better possibility of a good program with Sky than any of the other teams."
Brailsford added: "This guy out of everyone deserves an opportunity. He’s been on the fringes and not been given the chance to show what he can do but with Sky it hopefully gives him the platform to show he can mix it with the best. I’m thrilled to have him on board."
Steve Cummings (28, Barloworld), Chris Froome (24, Barloworld) and Geraint Thomas (23, Barloworld)
The triumvirate of Cumming, Thomas and Froome have spent the last two seasons at Professional Continental team Barloworld, but with the sponsor confirming that they will leave the sport at the end of the year all three riders became available.
"Steve has been through our academy and is very talented. Even though he’s 28, I don’t think we’ve sent he best of him yet. He needs the right environment and I think we can provide that for him. He’s a key player," said Brailsford.
Froome, who was born in Kenya but now holds British citizenship, rode last year’s Tour de France. He’s been an outspoken advocate of clean cycling and Sky believe that despite his short career he has the making of a great climber. "Chris didn’t come through our system but we’ve been working with him for a year. He’s a real raw talent and we’ve got a rough diamond but he’s fantastic physical specimen. He’s not been in the sport too long but is very exciting," said Brailsford.
Thomas, like Cumming is an ex-academy rider and won the junior Paris-Roubaix before signing for Barloworld in 2007. "His performances on the track speak for themselves. We’ve not seen the best from him on the road. He was the youngest rider on the Tour two years ago and we really think he’s an exciting prospect. He’s fast and we want guys who can finish and win races."
Ian Stannard (22, ISD)
Stannard is a sprinter who was part of the T-Mobile Development Programme with Mark Cavendish in 2005 and 2006 and has ridden for ISD-Neri in 2009 on a one-year contract. "Stannard is very strong. He may be lost his way a bit for year in 2008 but he’s really back on track and has gone from a promising rider to someone that’s found his feet. He’s in great shape at the moment and a team player who can ride in the Classics and who can perform on his day," said Brailsford.
Peter Kennaugh (20, GB Academy)
At 20 he’s the youngest rider in the team and is currently on duty at the Tour de l'Avenir. His rise has been swift, winning the Trofeo Bastianelli, GP Capadarco and a stage of the Baby Giro this year. "Peter is still in our academy and has come up through the system. He’s a very good performance in the baby Giro and won some key races. He’s one of the brightest young riders around. It was important for us to identify some neo-pros and he fits with our mission to develop young British riders and move towards challenging for the Tour de France."