Chris Froome has sidestepped questions about a possible contradiction between Team Sky’s 2018 Ocean Rescue campaign against plastic pollution and new sponsor Ineos being the biggest petrochemical company in Europe by claiming he doesn’t know enough about pollution, global warming and the environment to say if the world is in danger or not.
Team Sky’s riders and staff have stayed tight-lipped about the arrival of Ineos as new team owner and sponsor before the official presentation of the new-look team on Wednesday before the Tour de Yorkshire. However, Froome faced a question about Ineos and the expected protests by anti-fracking groups during an exclusive interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that was published over the weekend.
Cyclingnews has translated parts of the interview into English.
During the interview, Froome talked about his success while at Team Sky, his fight to clear his name after last year’s salbutamol case, his 2018 Giro d’Italia victory, and his ambitions for the final years of his professional career. He was also asked about the recent Tramadol ban, saying it was a step in the right direction and stating he had never used the painkiller.
The two-page question-and-answer interview in Italian surrounded a huge photo of Froome in action during the 2018 Tour de France while wearing Team Sky’s special Ocean Rescue white jersey, with the #PassOnPlastic logo prominent on the shoulders. As part of Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign, Team Sky pledged to remove all single-use plastics from its business operations by 2020 and raise awareness of the issue.
Four months after Sky announced it would end its involvement in professional cycling, Dave Brailsford revealed the team would be taken over by Ineos. Other sponsors in the sport, including French oil and gas producer Total, Bahrain, Astana and UAE have raised ethical concerns but the arrival of Ineos has sparked louder protests, with Tony Bosworth, fossil free campaigner at Friends of the Earth, accusing Ineos of 'greenwashing' - the environmental equivalent of reputation laundering.
Steve Mason from Frack Free United, a network of groups that are opposed to fracking, told Cyclingnews that 15,000 masks depicting the face of Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe, complete with devil's horns, had been produced and that groups would attend both starts and finishes of the four-day Tour de Yorkshire, where Team Ineos will make their racing debut on Thursday.
When asked by La Repubblica if he thought Team Sky’s campaign for the environment and Ineos being the third biggest chemical group in the world was a contradiction, Froome replied: "I don’t know what to think, if not that business is business. Ineos is an important sponsor that allows us to stay at our level. Regarding pollution, global warming and the environment, I don’t know enough to say if the world is in danger or not. The bike can be a factor of change."
10 seasons at Team Sky
Froome’s career was transformed during his 10 seasons at Team Sky. He emerged from the role of a mountain domestique to become a Grand Tour team leader during the 2011 Vuelta a España, where he finished second overall. He then went on to win the Tour de France four times, as well as the 2017 Vuelta and the 2018 Giro d’Italia, plus numerous other stage races. He has extended his contract to stay with Dave Brailsford until the end of 2020.
"I’ve spent virtually all my career with Sky, they’ve been an incredible sponsor, that has a important place in the history of cycling. A lot of people, especially in Britain, started cycling thanks to what we achieved," Froome told La Repubblica.
Speaking at the recent Tour of the Alps, Froome suggested that Sky’s legacy also includes the boom in cycling in Britain.
"It [the team] definitely has a special history in the sport now, especially given the victories that Sky has had as the sponsor. Over the past 10 years, it is definitely an era, not just for us on the road as professional cyclists but also for the excitement in the buzz that it created in Britain," he said.
"Obviously there's all the Tour de France victories but more than that the millions of people who now ride a bike every day or at least a few times a week as a result Sky's involvement, I think that is the biggest legacy."
Speaking to La Repubblica, Froome described his stage victory and solo attack over the Colle delle Finestre at the 2018 Giro d’Italia as a day he will never forget.
"It was all or nothing. I’d lost a lot and had to risk it. I’d come to the Giro to win it and I’d worked months, done recon and used a lot of team resources to try to win the maglia rosa," he explained.
"I didn’t know when I attacked with 80km to go if I’d make it but I had to try. It was crazy but chasing often takes up more energy than attacking. That’s the Giro, it’s much more difficult than the Tour because you never know when it’s the right moment to go, it’s easy to make a mistake. The Giro was harder than any of the four Tours I’ve won."
Froome explained that the hope of securing a fifth Tour de France victory in July means he could not return to the Giro d’Italia this year.
"It’s not possible to go back to the Giro this year but I do want to go back soon," he said. "The goal of a fifth Tour de France is too important, also for the historic value that it’d have. If I win I’d make history and there’s nothing like being up there with the greats of the past."
The Salbutamol case
This time last year, Froome was fighting to clear his name after his salbutamol case was made public following his adverse analytical finding during the 2017 Vuelta a España. La Repubblica asked if it had left a stain on his career.
"It was my hardest year, I’d never thought to find myself on the other side, to have to defend myself that way," Froome replied.
"I’m really happy that that period is over. In the end, the truth came out, the facts were established that I hadn’t done anything wrong. During that storm I managed to ride and win the Giro. That’s what remains at the end of it all."
Froome’s contract with Team Sky is valid until the end of 2020 because Ineos has bought the team’s management company from Sky. He turns 34 on May 20 and revealed he plans to stay in the sport after eventual retirement.
"There won’t be an after; I’ll stay in some role in the world that has given me so much," Froome said, confirming the 2020 Tokyo Olympic road race as an end-of-career goal.
"Definitely, but it will be for a lot of people with my characteristics, like Nibali and others," he said. "I’ve never been a one-day race rider but I’d love to win at least one: the Olympics."