Sky will end its sponsorship of Team Sky at the end of the 2019 season, the team confirmed on Wednesday, forcing manager Dave Brailsford to search for a new backer if the team is to continue. The announcement also confirmed that 21st Century Fox would also end its partnership with the team at the end of 2019, marking the end of a 10-year era.
Sky has sponsored the team since its inception in 2010, and also sponsored the Great Britain national team for several years. The team has won the Tour de France six times with Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and this year Geraint Thomas.
"We came into cycling with the aim of using elite success to inspire greater participation at all levels. After more than a decade of involvement, I couldn't be prouder of what we've achieved with Team Sky and our long-standing partners at British Cycling. But the end of 2019 is the right time for us to move on as we open a new chapter in Sky's story," said Jeremy Darroch, the Sky Group's Chief Executive.
Sky, the television broadcast company, has undergone a number of major changes over the past year. In December 2017, Disney bought a large portion of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox company, which included a 39 per cent stake in Sky. Murdoch had hoped to buy the larger controlling share of the company, but was outbid by US media giant Comcast in October.
The sponsorship of Team Sky had been a project of Murdoch's son James and the buyout gave rise to rumours that it could spell the end of the team. The British newspaper the Telegraph later reported that the team would be safe, with Team Sky being "more Jeremy Darroch's project than Murdoch's".
Despite the departure of Sky, team manager Dave Brailsford remains hopeful that they can secure a new sponsor for the 2020 season. Geraint Thomas recently signed a new contract that lasts until 2021, while Egan Bernal signed a five-year contract that runs until the end of 2023. Ivan Sosa is set to sign with the team for the 2019 season after backing out of a deal with Trek-Segafredo.
"While Sky will be moving on at the end of next year, the team is open minded about the future and the potential of working with a new partner, should the right opportunity present itself. For now, I would like to thank all Team Sky riders and staff, past and present - and above all the fans who have supported us on this adventure," Brailsford said in a statement.
"We aren't finished yet by any means. There is another exciting year of racing ahead of us and we will be doing everything we can to deliver more Team Sky success in 2019."
- Sky to end sponsorship after 2019
- Team Sky set 2019 Tour de France as deadline to find new sponsors
- Team Sky created 'brilliant sponsor template' but may struggle to find replacement
- Chris Froome: We are not finished by any means
- Acquadro confident Brailsford can save Team Sky
Team Sky is currently in Mallorca for a winter training camp. The riders and staff were apparently told about Sky’s sponsorship decision early overnight.
Since its inception, Team Sky has become one of the front-running teams in the WorldTour peloton. It has won six of the last seven Tours de France. In addition, it won the 2017 Vuelta a Espana and 2018 Giro d'Italia with Chris Froome.
However, it has also had its controversies. In 2016, the team's first Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins was caught up in the Fancy Bear hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) systems, which revealed that he had Therapeutic Use Exemptions for the injection of the powerful steroid Triamcinolone acetonide ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d'Italia. It is a banned substance but Wiggins was given permission to take it due to asthma and allergy problems.
Following the Fancy Bear hack, the Daily Mail revealed a jiffy bag had been couriered by a member of British Cycling staff from the governing body's headquarters in Manchester to Team Sky on the last stage of the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné. It was alleged the package contained triamcinolone and that the contents were administered to Wiggins on the Team Sky bus. However, neither that nor claims from Sky manager Dave Brailsford that it contained legal asthma drug Fluimucil have been substantiated given the absence of record-keeping at Team Sky and British Cycling.
At the end of last year, it was announced that Froome had returned an adverse analytical finding for elevated levels of the asthma medication salbutamol. Froome was later cleared by the UCI but only after a protracted case that ran through the opening half of the 2018 season.
Team Sky rider Gianni Moscon found himself in trouble after he racially abused French rider Kevin Reza at the 2017 Tour de Romandie. It was later alleged that he pushed Reza's teammate Sebastian Reichenbach off his bike during a race, though he was cleared due to a lack of evidence. This year, Moscon was thrown out of the Tour de France for attempting to punch Ellie Gesbert during stage 15.