With speculation mounting over Team Ineos’ pecking order at this year’s Tour de France, Cyclingnews understands that four-time Tour winner Chris Froome is in discussions over a possible mid-season transfer.
The Ineos leader has not yet signed a contract extension, with his current three-year deal concluding at the end of the calendar year.
The 34-year-old has stated several times that he sees a possible fifth Tour de France title as his main objective for the year and that he plans to race for at least another four years. However, with leadership for the Tour de France still undecided and last year’s winner Egan Bernal last week stating that he will not sacrifice his chances for those of a teammate, Ineos have a number of difficult decisions to make.
Cyclingnews has confirmed that Froome has been in discussions with several teams enquiring about his services for 2021 and beyond but, with the Tour de France rescheduled for later in the season, coupled with the lack of clarity over leadership, the idea of a mid-season switch has also been raised in discussions with rival teams.
Cyclingnews understands that two teams have approached Froome with interest in either a mid-season or end-of-year transfer. If a mid-season transfer did go ahead – and it would need agreement from all the parties concerned – then it would potentially give the British rider complete leadership at the Tour.
When asked for an official comment, Froome would not go into details regarding his contract situation, but he reiterated his focus for the Tour.
"Following my crash last year and subsequent recovery I am extremely confident that I can return to Tour winning form. Which team that will be with beyond 2020, I don’t know yet," he told Cyclingnews.
"I have no intention of retiring any time soon. If anything, the crash has given me a renewed focus and drive. I have worked harder than I ever have to get back to where I am. I won’t let that be for nothing."
Last week, Bernal told reporters that he would find it hard to give up the chance of defending his 2019 Tour title, saying: "I’m young, I’ve already won one Tour de France, and I’m not going to throw away an opportunity to win another Tour de France, that’s for sure. That I would sacrifice myself, being at my 100 per cent… I don’t think I’m going to do that, nor will he [ed - he said in relation to Froome], nor will anyone."
Team Ineos also have Geraint Thomas to consider. The Welshman won the Tour in 2018 and finished second to Bernal a year later. He too is determined to lead the squad at the Tour and while Ineos have managed situations with former winners before, they have never started a Tour de France with the last three winners in their ranks.
Froome crashed out of the Dauphiné last year and spent all of last summer and the winter recuperating. In April, he told the press that he is now back to full-health and that he would take aim at a fifth Tour in order to join the likes of Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain as a joint record holder. Froome has even stated that his long-term aim is to surpass the current record of five wins.
Last month he told the French publication L’Equipe: "My dream, when I retire, would be to have won more Tours de France than anyone else. It would be the perfect scenario, but I know there is still a lot of work to make it come true.
"Given the recovery has been successful and my track record, that’s the plan. I’d like to think that the chances are I can do it. Nothing is written in stone, or given in sport, but I’ve got the experience, loads of motivation and I want to make it happen obviously.
"Going through what I have been through the last year, it did give me a lot of time to think. Looking at other athletes who have been through similar experiences and come back stronger, I can understand why now. It gives you a whole new perspective on your career and racing. In cycling we saw [Alejandro] Valverde break his leg in the Tour, come back and the following season he ended up world champion."
At the time, Froome was keen to hold off on talks regarding contracts, insisting that a return to racing after the current lockdown was his main priority. However, with no contract on the table from Ineos at present, and teams already asking about his future for next year, the topic of a mid-season move has come up.
Such transfers are rare in cycling, with Rohan Dennis the most high profile rider to change teams in 2014 from Garmin to BMC Racing. The UCI rules state that riders can make mid-season transfers during the first two weeks of August if all parties are in agreement.
Cyclingnews has contacted Team Ineos for comment on Froome’s contract situation.