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Israel Cycling Academy confirms merger talks with WorldTour teams

With Team Sky's future in doubt, there is speculation that Israel Cycling Academy might merge with the British superteam in 2020.

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Sylvan Adams, the flamboyant real estate billionaire who owns Israel Cycling Academy (ICA), is determined to bring his team to the Tour de France by 2020.

The way he sees it, there are three ways to get there. First, his team can finish among one of the top two spots in this year’s team rankings among the Professional Continental league, and earn an automatic wildcard berth to all three grand tours for 2020, which includes a spot in the Tour. Option two is to sign a big-name rider who could entice a grand tour to invite ICA, a scenario that opens doors but provides no guarantee. Or, he could merge with an existing WorldTour team hungry for new financial partners.

That final scenario is making the rounds this winter in light of Team Sky’s uncertain future following the departure of longtime backers at the end of 2019.

Is Adams considering merging with Team Sky for 2020? Adams wouldn’t confirm it, but he wouldn’t deny it, either.

“There are several discussions happening with more than one WorldTour team,” Adams told VeloNews. “I cannot divulge too much right now and I don’t have any confirmation on any specific discussions with any specific teams, but that is on our radar screen.”

When contacted by VeloNews on Tuesday, officials from Team Sky would not comment on its current sponsorship situation.

Sky, the British media company, has underwritten the team since its inception in 2010. It said in December it would be ending its financial backing of the British outfit at the end of 2019.

Team Sky’s unclear future has fueled speculation that it might consider a merger with another sponsor hungry for the team’s deep roster and racing acumen that has won six of the past seven editions of the Tour de France.

Many are wondering if a similar scenario to what happened with BMC Racing and CCC-Sprandi Polkowice could play out for Team Sky. BMC Racing was folding at the end of 2018, while the second-tier Polish-backed team was keen to race the Tour after years of falling short of securing a wild-card invitation. BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz stitched together a deal that saw Polish shoemaker CCC come on board as its new title sponsor for 2019, racing as CCC Team with a mix of staff and riders from both former teams.

Team Sky officials, however, said Tuesday they would not reveal details about the team’s ongoing sponsorship quest.

Speaking to VeloNews, Adams confirmed that he’s talking to suitors about a possible WorldTour merger in 2020, but stopped short of saying which teams he’s been in contact with.

“Let’s just say that we are aware of what’s going on in the marketplace,” he said in a telephone interview. “We have had conversations with teams and this is a possible route for us to end up as a WorldTour team.”

Adams did not reveal if his team will apply for a WorldTour license for 2020 but said the team’s long-term future is to eventually race as a WorldTour team.

“Our ambition is to race the Tour in 2020,” Adams said. “The possibility of a merger with a WorldTour team is exciting. It’s on our radar screen, but we will focus on this year’s goals irrespective of any extraneous developments.

“We certainly have our eyes open, and we’ll be opportunistic,” he continued. “This team is growing organically, but if there is an opportunity that comes along, we will consider it. Sometimes you make your own luck.”

For 2019, Israel Cycling Academy also beefed up its roster to 30 riders, the largest of any WorldTour or Professional Continental team this season. After racing in the Giro d’Italia in 2018 as part of the “big start” in Israel, the team hopes for an invitation to race the Giro again in 2019. An announcement is expected later this month.

The team’s season-long ambition is to race for points to ensure a top-two spot in the end-of-season UCI team rankings among the Professional Continental squads. This would earn it starting slots in key WorldTour races the following season, including all three grand tours in 2020.

Adams said he will be closely watching developments at Team Sky and would consider signing top riders if the team does shutter at the end of 2019. Its current budget of about $8 million annually is a fraction of Team Sky’s estimated budget of about $43 million. The team’s budget would have to grow dramatically in order to a sign a Tour de France-caliber rider like Chris Froome and the entourage that top stars bring with them.

“We wouldn’t be shy about approaching some big-name riders, but we don’t want to pick over the carcass of Sky,” he said. “My wish is that Sky continues in whatever form it is because it is one of the most important teams in the peloton and they’ve done so much in the sport. But if it’s a hypothetical question, and if those riders from Sky or some other team are available, yes, we would certainly be knocking at the door.”

As Adams said, sometimes you make your own luck. Expect the team to be active in the rider market this year.