Dave Brailsford’s team had been searching for a new backer since December, when it was announced that Sky would cease its ownership of the team at the end of the 2019 season. The decision followed Comcast’s takeover of the company last year.
In recent weeks, it was reported that Ineos, which is owned by Britain’s richest person, Jim Ratcliffe, was in advanced negotiations to take over the team.
“Sky and 21st Century Fox have agreed the sale of Team Sky to INEOS. INEOS will become the sole owners of Tour Racing Limited (the team’s holding company) from 1 May this year and will continue to fund the current team in full, honouring all existing commitments to riders, staff and partners,” read a statement from Team Sky on Tuesday.
The squad’s first race as Team Ineos will be the Tour de Yorkshire, which gets underway in Doncaster on May 2. It remains to be seen, however if the team will compete at the Tour de Romandie – which runs from April 30 to May 5 – under the Team Sky or Team Ineos banner.
The team said on Tuesday that the “practicalities of the transfer are subject to further discussion” with the UCI.
“Today’s announcement is great news for the team, for cycling fans, and for the sport more widely,” said Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford. “It ends the uncertainty around the team and the speed with which it has happened represents a huge vote of confidence in our future.”
Team Sky was established in 2010 with the stated aim of winning the Tour de France within five years with a British rider. Bradley Wiggins achieved that goal in 2012, and the team have won five of the six Tours since through four-time winner Chris Froome and defending champion Geraint Thomas.
The team’s success has come amid considerable controversy, however. In 2016, the Russian hacking group Fancy Bears revealed that Wiggins had availed of a TUE for the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours, as well as the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Last year, a British parliamentary select committee report into doping in British sport issued a damning assessment of Team Sky’s ethical practices.
Former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman risks losing his medical licence when he eventually faces a tribunal in connection with the 2011 delivery of testosterone patches to the team’s headquarters in Manchester. In 2017, Froome returned an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol on the Vuelta a España, though anti-doping proceedings were dropped on the eve of last year’s Tour.
In a statement on Tuesday, Brailsford thanked Sky for their longstanding backing of the team.
“I would like to personally thank [Sky CEO] Jeremy Darroch, who over a decade ago had the vision to back us when others thought we were crazy,” Brailsford said. “His support for the team through thick and thin has been remarkable and everyone at Team Sky thanks him for all he has done for our sport.”
The arrival of Ineos as owner means that the team will be in a position to retain its star-studded roster, which includes Froome, Thomas and the emerging talent Egan Bernal, who won Paris-Nice at the weekend. A report in the Guardian on Monday suggested that Ineos’ backing will see the team’s budget increase to close to £40 million in 2020.
“Cycling continues to mushroom for the general public as it is seen to be good for fitness and health, together with easing congestion and pollution in city environments. Ineos is delighted to take on the responsibility of running such a professional team,” said Jim Ratcliffe in Tuesday’s statement.
Environmental advocacy group Oil Change International has decried Ineos’ sponsorship of a cycling team as “greenwashing at its best.” Team Sky wore a specially designed kit on the 2018 Tour to promote the company’s Ocean Rescue campaign, which called for an end to single use plastic.
Ratcliffe and Ineos have lobbied to reduce restrictions on fracking and pushed for the chemicals sector to be exempted from paying green taxes. The Guardian recently reported that Ratcliffe, a prominent backer of Brexit, has moved to Monaco in order to save up to £4 billion in tax.
“In Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos, I know that we have found the right partner whose vision, passion and pioneering spirit can lead us to even greater success on and off the bike,” Brailsford said. “It heralds the start of a hugely exciting new chapter for us all as Team Ineos.”
Chris Froome welcomed the new sponsor in a post on Twitter, writing: So excited that we as riders and staff will be able to continue on together for 2020 and beyond. Looking forward to continued success as Team INEOS! Massive thanks to everyone involved in keeping this special group of people together.”