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Team Sky sets June deadline to find new backer

The team says it must secure post-2019 funding before the start of next summer's Tour de France.

The clock is already ticking.

Team Sky officials acknowledged Wednesday they have a little more than six months to find a new sponsor to save the team.

The peloton was dealt a shocker Wednesday when corporate backers abruptly announced they would end their financial support of cycling’s richest team at the end of 2019.

With a budget topping $35 million annually and a roster that includes two Tour de France winners in Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, team manager Dave Brailsford knows he has a big task ahead of him.

In an open letter to fans, Team Sky officials admitted they need to secure the team’s future before the start of the 2019 Tour de France.

“This news has only just been announced; we can’t predict what will happen from 2020 and there are no guarantees,” the statement read. “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.”

Late June is considered the drop-dead date within the peloton to secure sponsorship backing in order to keep a team’s top riders. Stars such as Froome and Thomas won’t wait around long if there is not a new deal in place before the Tour starts.

In fact, riders and agents often start working the phones at the first hint of a team’s financial insecurity. It’s hard not to imagine that that’s not already happening in the wake of Wednesday’s surprise announcement.

Last year, for example, both Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis secured their deals to leave BMC Racing well before the start of the 2018 Tour when it was obvious that team boss Jim Ochowicz had not closed a deal. Ochowicz eventually brokered a deal with Polish shoemaker CCC to keep the team afloat, but not before losing Porte to Trek-Segafredo and Dennis to Bahrain-Merida.

Not only will he be pinched for time, but Brailsford will also need to find a backer with pockets as big as Sky provided. The team’s estimated budget of more than $35 million annually dwarfs the budgets of other teams in the WorldTour.

Things could be even more complicated for Brailsford to find a sponsor willing to fork over tens of millions of dollars amid the ongoing “Brexit” crisis currently engulfing the United Kingdom.

It’s also unclear if Brailsford would want to continue with a lesser-funded team even if a sponsor stepped forward with a smaller budget. It would be hard to keep the current lineup in place with two Tour de France champions and an all-star support staff. Brailsford has also invested heavily in building up a strong roster of young, promising riders, including Egan Bernal, which would become a top target for teams looking to poach Brailsford’s deep bench.

“In terms of the future, we are open-minded,” the statement read. “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 into our values.”

Brailsford has always set a very high bar. Following Wednesday’s news, he will be facing the biggest challenge of his career to keep together the team he spent the past decade building.

He has a little more than six months.