(Reuters) - The future of Team Sky has been cast into doubt after its owner and sponsor, broadcaster Sky, confirmed it will end involvement in professional cycling after the 2019 season, the British-based outfit said on Wednesday.
The decision means the hugely successful team, which has won eight Grand Tours since 2012, will need to begin the search for another source of funding from the beginning of 2020 and continue to compete under a new name.
“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,” team principal Dave 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.”
Team Sky was founded in 2010 with an ambitious goal of securing a first Tour de France victory by a British cyclist within five years, a feat they achieved two years later when Bradley Wiggins triumphed in Paris.
Chris Froome claimed the first of four Tour de France wins a year later and became the first cyclist in more than 30 years to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time when he added the 2017 Vuelta a Espana and 2018 Giro d’Italia to his list of honours.
Earlier this year, Froome’s team mate Geraint Thomas became the third Briton to win the Tour de France for Sky, who have amassed 322 overall victories since their formation.
“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 including our Sky Ocean Rescue campaign,” Sky Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said.
In an open letter to fans on Wednesday, Team Sky said changes at the satellite broadcaster had played a part in Sky’s decision to withdraw from cycling.
Froome took to Twitter to thank “brilliant partners” Sky and said the team would do everything possible to survive once their main sponsor pulled out.
“I can’t predict the future but this is a really special team,” he said. “We plan to be together in 2020 if at all possible.
“We will all be doing everything we can to help make that happen — in different colours with a new partner, but with the same values, focus and desire to win.
“They (Sky) have been brilliant partners and it’s been an incredible journey we have shared together. They have helped me personally every step of the way and I will always be grateful for their support.”
U.S. cable group Comcast Corp outbid Rupert Murdoch-owned Twenty-First Century Fox Inc at an auction earlier this year to take control of Sky in a deal valued at $40 billion.
Fox, which owns a minority stake in Team Sky, also confirmed that 2019 would be the last year of its involvement in cycling.
“We can’t predict what will happen from 2020 and there are no guarantees,” Team Sky said in the letter.
“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.”
Team Sky’s dominance of the cycling landscape has not been without controversy for an outfit backed by a huge budget that has strived to take the moral high ground with a zero-tolerance doping policy.
The 33-year-old Froome was investigated and subsequently cleared of wrongdoing by cycling’s world governing body (UCI) over an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for an asthma drug at last year’s Vuelta days before the Tour de France in July.
The team was also investigated by the U.K. Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) over a “mystery package” ordered by former team doctor Richard Freeman and delivered to Wiggins at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.
Brailsford told lawmakers that the package contained the legal decongestant Fluimucil and UKAD closed its investigation after 14 months without issuing any anti-doping charges, citing a lack of “contemporaneous evidence”.
Team Sky, however, was criticised by UKAD for not keeping accurate medical records and also drew flak from British parliamentarians, who alleged the team had crossed an “ethical line” by using permitted medication to enhance performances.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar and Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by John O'Brien and Clare Fallon