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Chris Froome, alongside with three-time world champion Peter Sagan, is the highest paid rider in the peloton. His paycheck is estimated north of $5 million per season. Signing him in the wake of a possible Team Sky collapse at the end of 2019 is more complicated than it seems.
How many teams would have the money to sign Froome? As one team manager put it, “Right now, no one.”
The future of Team Sky hangs in the balance following last week’s sudden decision by financial backers to cut off the rivers of cash by the end of 2019. Team principal Dave Brailsford has vowed to find new sponsors to keep the team equally funded going into 2020.
While Brailsford has been telegraphing a message of confidence, there is still a chance the team might fold. If there is not a strong signal by the start of the Tour de France that a new sponsor is on board, riders will start to secure their futures.
There’s already speculation about where Sky’s galaxy of stars from Froome to Geraint Thomas to Egan Bernal might land. Froome is the cream of the crop and his abrupt availability would send shockwaves through the peloton.
At first glance, signing a rider like Froome would seem like a no-brainer. A well-funded team could swoop in, buy the best of “Fortress Froome,” and catapult to the top of the peloton’s pecking order.
“There are some good teams already, so if you add Chris Froome and a few key guys, then you can become the best team,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “That takes a lot of money. There are only one or two teams who could afford Froome’s asking price. But if you go and purchase a block of Sky, then you become the next Sky.”
A package deal
Signing a rider of Froome’s stature is more complicated than simply writing a check.
First off, Froome wouldn’t just be Froome, but it would be a package deal involving several people in his orbit. Big-name riders typically include many of the key individuals who’ve helped them become so successful, from on-the-road teammates and trusted mechanics to favorite coaches and sport directors.
To pick up a rider like Froome, a team would need to make room for at least a half-dozen people inside an organization, requiring millions in its pocket to pick up the tab.
“You would have to reshuffle your whole roster to try to bring on Chris Froome,” said Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland. “It’s not just a simple case of bringing on Chris Froome and his salary. It’s the whole package that he’d want to bring with him.”
Look no further than other recent superstars who made a switch. Alberto Contador was renowned for his retinue of teammates, mechanics, and staffers he would bring with him as he moved from one team to another. When he changed from Astana to Saxo Bank in 2011, the deal included his favored mechanic, a personal press officer as well as three teammates in Benjamin Noval, Dani Navarro, and Jesus Hernandez.
Three-time world champion Sagan had an equally large entourage when he signed with Bora-Hansgrohe in 2017, taking his brother Juraj, a few key teammates and his personal coach as part of a package deal.
What would a Froome package look like? He’d likely want to bring along a few trusted teammates, such as Wout Poels or Luke Rowe, as well as high-profile trainer Tim Kerrison. Add a favorite mechanic and soigneur, and perhaps sport director Nicolas Portal, and it is suddenly a half-dozen or more people moving to a team.
That could nudge the price tag close to $10 million, a number that is more than half of many of the WorldTour teams’ annual operating budgets.
“That’s where it gets expensive,” Copeland continued. “Not only do you need to bring on these people with their expensive salaries, but you also have to get rid of some people to make room for them. It causes a huge reshuffle within a team.”
An established star … or an aging one?
There is also a question of age and motivation. Froome will be 34 in May, and if he wins a record-tying fifth yellow jersey in July, many team managers will be asking themselves just how motivated a rider at the pinnacle of his sport might be. Froome’s never suffered a serious injury and he has insisted that he wants to keep racing at a high level for the next few years. In fact, he has a contract with Team Sky through 2020. It’s realistic that Froome could keep performing at Tour-winning level for several more years.
Money-pinched managers and team owners, however, might think twice about betting the house on a proven winner entering the final years of his career versus spreading their bets around on cheaper younger riders who could blossom into the sport’s next big stars. And Sky’s roster is chock full of young talent, including climber talent Bernal, Ivan Sosa, and Pavel Sivakov.
A major hurdle for many teams would be trying to reshape their entire operation to suit Froome. Deservedly so, Froome’s been the gravitational center of Team Sky since at least 2013, and he would expect no less going to a new team.
Richard Plugge, the manager at Jumbo-Visma, said adding a big-name established star onto his team likely wouldn’t fit. Similar to many teams across the peloton, Plugge said he likes to develop young riders within a unique ecosystem and build them into winners. After several years of investment, Plugge is seeing a big payoff with homegrown talents like Primoz Roglic, George Bennett, and Dylan Groenenwegen, along with the continued output from established captains Robert Gesink and Steven Kruijswijk.
It wouldn’t be easy for Plugge to suddenly scramble a team’s internal structure to make room for a rider like Froome without creating a major disruption.
“It would be difficult for an established rider to come onto our team,” Plugge said. “We like to have young riders come into our team and build them into stars. We want them to have our DNA and know our way of working. I think a lot of teams are working like this.”
Bringing on Froome and his entourage would also mean making room, forcing managers to cut loose other riders and staffers. With many teams investing years into building their own family-like operations, the list of would-be Froome suitors might be shorter than expected.
“We’ve invested in riders like [Esteban] Chaves and the Yates brothers, and they’re just coming into their own,” said Mitchelton-Scott’s White. “To sign a rider like Froome, a team would need to have a lot of money and have a big need on the GC.”
Of course, Brailsford could find a sponsor and keep much if not all of Team Sky’s roster and infrastructure fully intact. In fact, White, Plugge, and Copeland all said they expect Brailsford to deliver a new sponsor.
What team could afford to hire Froome and have space on its roster if that doesn’t happen? Look to well-funded teams with deep pockets or ambitious second-tier organizations hoping to nudge into the WorldTour league in 2020.