Geraint Thomas’ Team Sky future is under a cloud after Sky announced its sponsorship of the team will finish at the end of 2019.
Wales’ Tour de France champ has only just agreed a new three year deal with the team that was due to run until the end of 2021.
Thomas will now hope the team can find a new backer for 2020 onwards though finding a sponsor that could match Sky’s reputed £30million a year funding could be difficult.
Fellow Welsh riders Luke Rowe and Owain Doull will also be hoping team chief Dave Brailsford, who was brought up in North Wales, can find a new backer.
But even the team admit they might not be able to fight the right partner to carry on beyond 2019 putting the future of one of cycling’s greatest success stories in doubt.
“First things first, nothing changes for next year. Sky are fully committed to the end of 2019 and together we have ambitious goals for the season,” Team Sky said in an open letter to fans today.
“We all want to close the Team Sky story with the strongest possible finish. We are more motivated as a Team than we have ever been.
“In terms of the future, we are open minded. If we can find a new long-term partner to take the Team forward into a new era, then we will do so. And we will be doing everything we can to make that happen over the coming weeks and months.
“Equally, any future partner would have to be the right partner – one who shares our ethos and buys in to our values.
“This news has only just been announced; we can’t predict what will happen from 2020 and there are no guarantees. Whatever happens, we will make sure there is clarity one way or the other about the future of the Team before the Tour de France next July.”
Thomas has been with the team since its inception in 2010 since when it has claimed eight Grant Tour successes including his historic Tour de France triumph.
The 32-year-old will not be short of offers if he maintains that form when he defends his Yellow Jersey this July.
Thomas was targeted by several teams this year but he decided to stay with a team whose funding had made many rival outfits green with envy.
Rowe only just recently signed a contract extension to 2021 while 2016 Olympic Team Pursuit champ Doull’s deal runs out at the end of 2019.
The decision to end Sky’s backing comes just weeks after the satellite broadcaster was taken over in a £30billion deal by Comcast.
There are conflicting reports whether that take-over was behind the decision to end sponsorship.
Having funded the team since 2010, the sponsorship may have just run its course.
But Sky have been caught up in several scandals in recent years such as the Jiffygate affair and a medical bag delivered to Bradley Wiggins in 2011.
There was also the leak of his use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions before major races.
And four-time Tour de France champ Chris Froome’s 2017 victory at the Vuelta a Espana was in dispute following his Adverse Analytical Finding for salbutamol, though he was cleared of any wrong-doing.
Those controversies have sometimes overshadowed the team’s successes on the road which has led rivals to question Sky’s superior spending power.
When the number of riders in a Grand Tour was reduced from nine to eight per team this year it was said to be partly an attempt to try and reduce Sky’s dominance.
That didn’t work as Thomas rode to his famous triumph.
Hopefully he will get the chance for several more in the next few years.