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Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images (File).

Team Sky riders calm for now as sponsor search begins

Agents with riders on Team Sky say they expect the stars to stay put as long as possible, hoping to help save the team.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Team Sky’s riders are calm for now, but agents say that could quickly change if the team fails to confirm a new sponsor in the next five months.

The telecommunications giant announced Wednesday it would no longer sponsor the British WorldTour team after 2019. It will end a 10-year run at the top of cycling’s ranks. Over the years, Sky’s riders have won all three grand tours, including six Tour de France titles.

Team boss David Brailsford is now searching for a company to fill the £34 million ($42.6 million) gap. Cycling agents say Sky’s riders are calm for now.

“The riders in Sky are all high-level riders, they don’t feel the pressure,” agent Giuseppe Acquadro told VeloNews. He represents 12 riders currently on Team Sky. “That’s the sensation that I had when I was in Mallorca at the team camp. The situation is calm.

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem for Dave to find a new sponsor. Sure, that is a big budget, but if he continues, it’ll be at the top.”

Reportedly, Brailsford is already speaking to two or three companies that could step in and replace Sky. Sky helped start the team in 2010 with stars like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas. Thomas gave Sky its sixth Tour de France victory this summer.

“The riders heard the news, but there’s still plenty of time to find a new sponsor and for the continuation of the team,” said Dries Smets, an agent who represents four Team Sky riders.

“For now, there’s no stress or nervousness. Not only the management, but the sponsor Sky is committed to helping find a new sponsor.”

“The guys at Sky will be loyal and they want to stay there,” another rider agent Andrew McQuaid said. “I know them, they will give Sky every opportunity to have time to find a replacement.

“When you look at Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, they have been there so many years, they want to stay. They will wait as much as they can, help as much as they can.”

Chris Froome

In October, the team renewed Thomas’s contract through 2021. Froome’s runs through 2020. Young star Egan Bernal recently re-signed through 2023. The management company would be forced to pay those contracts if those riders were left in the cold without a team.

“I think that David Brailsford has something up his sleeve, given he signed riders for 2020 and 2021,” rider agent Johnny Carera said.

“I think he has an alternative, a sponsor in his pocket. Otherwise, you have to pay those contracts. So, someone has some idea and a plan.”

In May and June, tension could increase. As the Giro d’Italia passes and the Tour de France nears, Sky riders and rival teams will be wondering about the team’s standing. If no deal is confirmed for 2020 and beyond, riders, teams, and agents will be on their phones.

Brailsford gave himself a deadline of June, before the Tour de France, to sign a new sponsor.

“The team said that they want to secure the future before the Tour, and that’s when the nerves will happen,” said Smets, who also represents Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). “We’ve seen it with BMC Racing this year, between the Giro and Tour, things start to happen. They risk that the riders jump ship.”

“You can’t wait until September if you are Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas, you need to already find a team,” Carera explained. “And teams need to start to look for that budget around May if they are going to bring on a big star rider. That’s an important amount of money, so you can’t wait for months.”

With its budget, Brailsford and his staff created the best team with the most advanced training and equipment. Doing so, Sky is one of the most globally recognized teams.

“If you sponsor Sky, you will immediately have a global publicity, as soon as Brailsford announces it’s company X,” Acquadro said.

“It’s never easy to find a sponsor in cycling, but he has the best project, the best riders, the best support staff,” McQuaid added. “At least he’s going onto the market with the best product.

“Also Sky’s executives will open the door for Brailsford to make connections, but it’s going to be difficult with Brexit on the horizon.”