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Sky talks team’s future with Colombian officials

A meeting between Sky officials, Colombian President Iván Duque, and others suggest a deal to save the team could be in the works.

Will a Colombian sponsor save Team Sky?

The rumor mill is churning following a closed-door meeting this week between Sky boss Dave Brailsford and highly placed Colombian officials.

News of a sit-down between Brailsford and Colombian President Iván Duque and other sporting officials was first reported in the Colombian media. On Thursday, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Ecopetrol — Colombia’s largest petroleum company — could take over as title sponsor.

So far, Team Sky is keeping quiet about any possible deals that would involve Colombian backers.

According to the Colombian daily El Espectador, Brailsford had a meeting with Duque and sports minister Ernesto Lucena at the presidential palace in Bogotá. Former Sky rider and Colombian superstar Rigoberto Urán reportedly helped organize the meeting.

The upshot? Apparently, there were discussions about how a mix of Colombian financial partners could step in as new sponsors for 2020 when long-running backer Sky leaves at the end of this season.

Colombian officials confirmed there was a meeting, but downplayed that any deal is finalized.

“There is nothing concrete,” Lucena told El Tiempo. “There was a meeting and they discussed future projects for Colombian cycling. They also spoke about Sky and the options that could be.”

A big hurdle for any would-be Colombian deal is Sky’s estimated budget that’s north of $40 million annually. Colombia’s previous efforts to back a team under the Coldeportes umbrella petered out in 2015 with shortfalls to cover the team’s operating budget of around $3 million.

Team Sky’s future is on everyone’s radar inside the peloton. If the team collapses without a major backer stepping in, one sport director said it would turn the rider market “upside down” if riders like Egan Bernal, Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas suddenly were looking for contracts.

There have been unconfirmed reports that new team owner Comcast — which bought out Sky last fall and the cycling team as a result of the multi-billion-dollar deal — might fund part of the team’s budget for as long as two seasons in light of the team’s unique ownership structure.

Brailsford, who is in South America for the Colombia 2.1 race, still needs to find a sponsor name to put on his team’s jersey. Speaking during a press conference Monday in Colombia, Brailsford wouldn’t give much away in terms of how a sponsor search is going. Officials have already said they would not be providing a running commentary on the team’s future until something is buttoned up.

There have been rumors of possible deals with Chinese companies, French luxury conglomerate LVHM, a possible merger with Israeli tycoon Sylvan Adams, and even a quickly denied offer from Oleg Tinkov.

For riders, the Colombian rumors are just one more to add to the list about the team’s uncertain future.

“I don’t know too much about what’s going on, and I haven’t made an effort to call Dave [Brailsford] or Fran [Millar]. Otherwise, it can get a bit too nerve-wracking,” Thomas told VeloNews. “I just leave it to them. It’s our job to race hard. I have every faith in them that they can find a sponsor. That’s what we all want.”