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The British team is the richest in pro cycling, by a long shot. Its estimated £31 million ($40.6m) budget has enabled it to load up with talented riders and staff. Since 2012, its riders have won all but one Tour de France. Sky’s rivals say this financial advantage makes a difference on the road, but there’s not much they can do about it.
After the stage 20 time trial, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) looks set to finish second overall in the Tour behind Sky’s Geraint Thomas. This follows another runner-up result to Sky’s Chris Froome in the Giro d’Italia this May.
Dumoulin, the winner of Saturday’s 31km time trial, says his team makes the best of things, despite having less budget to spend.
“They have more money to spend; it makes life easier sometimes, but the question is are they happier?” he said. “Of course having a big budget matters. But we just have to make the most out of it for now and also for the coming years.”
His Sunweb team’s budget is estimated to have a budget of $19 million, roughly half of Sky’s. Similarly, the Spanish Movistar team are estimated to have a budget of $14-16 million, less than half of that $40 million war chest.
Movistar director Eusebio Unzué shares Dumoulin’s perspective on team budgets and says the advantage goes beyond the riders that Sky can hire for its deep roster of talent.
“To have the chance to spend what you want and then achieve your goals, you just have to congratulate them,” the Spaniard said. “It’s more than just great riders. It’s the science and their system and the way they prepare, each year it’s easier for them to achieve something at the Tour and harder for the rest of us.”
Movistar’s Nairo Quintana has twice finished second to Froome at the Tour de France. This edition of the Grande Boucle has been less fruitful for the team. Although Quintana won stage 17, its best-placed rider overall is Mikel Landa in seventh after stage 20.
Some have suggested that pro cycling should implement budget caps for greater parity.
“Sky has a big budget, they can have the best riders, and having the best riders who can control the race so it becomes a little easier for them. If Bahrain had a budget of 10 million more then things would change,” Nibali said.“Maybe we need a budget cap, that wouldn’t be bad, it might balance things out and make things more interesting.
However, Dumoulin pointed out that the budget to field a talented team is not a guaranteed way to win a yellow jersey.
“For this Tour de France and the Giro, it didn’t really make a difference; of course we couldn’t control the race like Sky did but so far at the end, it also depends on the legs of the leader and the past Tours de France and past Giros they also had the strongest guy in the bunch,” he said. “You can have a strong team but if you don’t have the legs yourself to follow in the last kilometers, you don’t have the legs anyway. It’s too easy to say Geraint Thomas had a big advantage with his team. He was the strongest rider.”
Unzué also credited Thomas for being on perfect form and riding a consistent race.
“Sky’s a great team and this year, again, they have the strongest rider,” he said. “[Thomas] is a guy and a rider that has never had much luck in the grand tours but nevertheless has been the most brilliant and most consistent rider. He’s taken two stage wins so you can’t take absolutely anything away from him. He’s been the dominant rider with a team to protect him.”
Regardless of whether a high-budget superteam stifles unpredictable racing, rivals agree on one thing: For Team Sky, it is money well-spent.
Andrew Hood, Fred Dreier and Gregor Brown contributed to this report from Espelette, France.