Team Sky will race on under the name Team INEOS after securing the backing of Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
The change will come as early as May, with a squad expected to include four-time Tour winner Chris Froome due to line up at the Tour de Yorkshire in Doncaster under the new branding on May 2.
Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford had been looking for new funding from 2020 after Sky announced in December it was stepping away from the sport at the end of this year, but the media company has agreed to sell the team’s holding company Tour Racing Limited to Ratcliffe’s INEOS company on May 1.
“Today’s announcement is great news for the team, for cycling fans, and for the sport more widely,” Brailsford said. “It ends the uncertainty around the team and the speed with which it has happened represents a huge vote of confidence in our future.”
The deal represents a major victory for Brailsford, who faced a hugely difficult task in replacing the deep pockets of Sky. A budget dwarfing those of the team’s rivals helped deliver victories in six of the last seven editions of the Tour de France.
Sky’s withdrawal had come as a shock to Brailsford when it was announced last year, with the team having just handed lengthy contract extensions to Tour winner Geraint Thomas and rising prospect Egan Bernal.
Now those deals, along with those of many other riders including Froome, have been secured, with a team statement saying INEOS “will continue to fund the current team in full, honouring all existing commitments to riders, staff and partners”.
Thomas, whose three-year deal is worth a reported £3.5million per season, was quick to welcome the news.
“Super happy that the team can continue and stay together!!” he wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to Sky, hello to INEOS”
Froome, who has won six Grand Tours in Sky colours, followed suit, 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”
Ratcliffe has previously invested significant sums in sailing, partnering with Ben Ainslie to form Ineos Team UK, but is also known as a keen amateur cyclist.
“Cycling is a great endurance and tactical sport that is gaining ever more popularity around the world,” Ratcliffe said in a statement.
“Equally, 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.”
Ratcliffe’s reference to easing pollution was noted with irony in some quarters, however.
Team Sky have recently championed a campaign to save ocean environments and a #passonplastic initiative. The team will now be owned by a multinational chemicals company which is a significant producer of plastic.
“Taking over Team Sky is the latest blatant attempt at greenwashing by Ineos…” Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth said.
“Cycling is one the UK’s most successful and popular sports, but do the likes of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome really want to be associated with a planet-wrecking company like Ineos?”
INEOS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the issue.
The deal draws a line under Sky’s long association with the sport, which at one point saw the company sponsoring both British Cycling on the track and Team Sky on the road – a period which coincided with unprecedented success but, in recent times, also a good deal of controversy.
UK Anti-Doping conducted a 14-month investigation into a mystery jiffy bag delivered to then team doctor Richard Freeman at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011, but closed it in 2017 citing a lack of evidence. Team Sky denied any wrongdoing.
Freeman, former doctor to both Team Sky and British Cycling, was due to face misconduct charges brought by the General Medical Council at a tribunal in Manchester last month but the case has been adjourned with Freeman yet to appear.
Froome also faced investigation from world governing body the UCI after returning a urine test with high levels of salbutamol on his way to victory at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, but was cleared on the eve of last year’s Tour – having won the Giro d’Italia in the meantime.
Former rider Sir Bradley Wiggins, who delivered Sky’s first Tour win in 2012, has also faced questions over his use of a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for a hayfever medication. Wiggins has denied any wrongdoing.
Sky insisted the controversies were not behind their decision to walk away, which came after a takeover by US cable giant Comcast.
Sky Group chief executive Jeremy Darroch said: “We are pleased that the team’s future has been secured under new ownership.
“This brings to a close Sky’s decade-long involvement with cycling, which has created unprecedented success and inspired millions more people to cycle regularly.”