LONDON — The future of the most successful cycling team of the last decade was put in doubt Wednesday when Sky announced its withdrawal from the sport following the European pay TV giant’s takeover by American company Comcast.
Team Sky, which had a rider win the Tour de France this year for the sixth time in seven races, will require new ownership if it is to continue competing — under a new name — from 2020.
"We plan to be together in 2020 if at all possible," said Chris Froome, who has raced for Team Sky since its debut in 2010 and won four Tour de France titles. "We will all be doing everything we can to help make that happen — in different colours with a new partner with the same values, focus and desire to win."
Sky spent 34.5 million pounds ($43 million) last year and generated only 6.7 million pounds ($8 million) in revenue that didn’t come from the owners. The team was reliant on the 25.3 million pounds ($32 million) in title sponsorship in 2017 from shareholders Sky and 21st Century Fox.
Fox held the largest stake in Sky until September when it was outbid by Philadelphia-based Comcast to win control of the company, which is based in Britain but also has broadcasting operations in Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.
"The end of 2019 is the right time for us to move on as we open a new chapter in Sky’s story and turn our focus to different initiatives," Sky group chief executive Jeremy Darroch said.
Fox, which has a 15 per cent stake in Team Sky, is also pulling out of cycling, said Sky, which owns the remaining 85 per cent of the outfit through the Tour Racing company.
"The start of a new chapter for Sky is a natural moment, 12 months gives Team Sky time to plan for the next phase," team chairman Graham McWilliam wrote on Twitter. "The decision was taken by Sky in the last few weeks. Comcast are aware and supportive of what we have decided to do, but this is our decision not theirs."
McWilliam said it was a "priority" to find new backers to allow the team under Dave Brailsford to remain one of the most successful in cycling.
"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," said Brailsford, the team’s general manager.
Team Sky was established in 2009 by Brailsford, the brains behind Britain’s 14 medals in cycling at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the target of producing the country’s first Tour de France champion.
Bradley Wiggins won the Tour in 2012 but was later beset by controversies that engulfed the team. A British parliamentary committee said earlier this year that Team Sky crossed "the ethical line" over the use of a therapeutic use exemption to allow Wiggins to take a powerful corticosteroid to prepare for the 2012 Tour. Wiggins and Sky denied wrongdoing.
"The vision for Team Sky began with the ambition to build a clean, winning team around a core of British riders and staff," Brailsford said. "The team’s success has been the result of the talent, dedication and hard work of a remarkable group of people who have constantly challenged themselves to scale new heights of performance. None of this would have been possible without Sky."
Only one other team since 2012, Astana with Vincenzo Nibali, has won the Tour de France title as Froome won four times and Geraint Thomas once.
"We are not finished yet by any means," Froome said . "Everyone at Team Sky has got big ambitions for 2019 and this news had made us more determined than ever to make them happen."