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That is the question swirling in the pro cycling space on Thursday, following a report on Cyclingnews.com that Froome is considering a mid-season transfer to a different squad. VeloNews reached out to several WorldTour teams regarding the news, including Team Ineos, and all of the squads emphatically declined to comment.
“We don’t comment on speculation or rider contracts,” a Team Ineos official said.
Froome’s current contract with Ineos ends at the conclusion of 2020, and there have already been murmurs that Froome might swap teams at the end of the season. With three Tour de France winners on the team’s current roster, including Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas, there are some suggestions that there might not be enough room for all three going into 2021. Bernal is under contract through 2023, while Thomas is off contract at the end of 2021.
Adding fuel to the rumors was a message posted to Twitter that Israel Start-Up Nation would be signing Froome; the twitter handle that posted the note even signed off with the team’s popular #yalla signature. The team was quick to call it out as “fake news.”
On Thursday, team officials refused to comment on speculation.
“We never comment on interest or negotiations,” an Israel Start-Up Nation team spokesman said. “We certainly respect Chris Froome as a rider and as a person, and his past accomplishments speak for themselves.”
With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc across the peloton, the Israeli team is one of the only squads with the available resources to sign a rider as expensive as Froome. So it wasn’t a stretch that someone was quick to suggest Israel Start-Up Nation, owned by billionaire real estate magnate Sylvan Adams.
Last year, Adams was linked to talks about possibly merging with Team Sky, before the team finally landed Ineos as its new partner. Adams later merged operations with Katusha to reach the WorldTour in 2020, and the team hopes to make its Tour debut later this year if conditions allow.
The report come just as one of the companies run by Team Ineos backer Jim Ratcliffe — Petroineos, an energy business where Ratcliffe is a partner with Chinese investors — is trying to secure government loans totaling more than $600 million to help stave off a sudden dip in world oil demand.
Team Ineos did not comment to VeloNews about reports suggesting that the team’s budget might be impacted by the sweeping global economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. Sources close to the team tell VeloNews there have not been any talks of reducing rider salaries or making budgetary adjustments so far. Team Ineos boasts the largest budget among the WorldTour, at an estimated $45 million annually.
Several teams across the peloton have already reduced or deferred wages in the wake of cycling’s unprecedented shutdown. Any rider coming off contract at the end of 2020 will face an uncertain future about where they might land.