Team Sky set for takeover by Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe

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Team Sky is poised to announce a takeover by Britain’s richest man in a deal that will maintain the six- times Tour de France winners’ position as the wealthiest team in world cycling. Sources close to Team Sky have told the Guardian that an announcement is imminent and Team Ineos, sponsored by the controversial petrochemical company, owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, is expected to be unveiled within the next 48 hours. It is understood that four strong offers were considered by Team Sky’s team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, but that none was able to match the resources offered by Ratcliffe and Ineos. With an increased budget, expected to be close to £40m, Brailsford is almost certain now to hold on to his leading riders, the reigning Tour champion, Geraint Thomas, the multiple Grand Tour champion Chris Froome, and the fast-rising Egan Bernal, who won France’s second-most prestigious stage race, Paris-Nice, on Saturday. Confirmation of the deal with Ineos cannot come soon enough for Brailsford and his staff as they look to avoid further uncertainty in the build-up to this year’s Grand Tours – Italy, France, and Spain – which they are targeting. The quick-step team offers a different perspective on the soul of cycling Richard Williams Read more Ratcliffe, said to be worth £21bn, grew up on a council estate in Greater Manchester and is now a resident of Monaco, where Team Sky’s leading riders and its head coach, Tim Kerrison, are based. He is also a keen cyclist and competitive triathlete. Sir Bradley Wiggins, winner of the 2012 Tour de France when riding for Sky, said the news was a “bonus for everyone at Team Sky.” “I’m aware of this guy, but I’ve never met him,” Wiggins told Eurosport. “He’s got a house in Mallorca, and he’s really into cycling, rides his bike, so I would imagine this is someone who loves cycling. “It’s an ideal situation for Dave Brailsford because he can continue running out this team with all his plans and philosophies and he’s answerable, you’d imagine, to one man who it’s his money and it’ll certainly help that team.” “Dave will want to retain control,” Wiggins added. “It’s Dave’s way in terms of the way he manages the team, the way he’s set the team up and I think he would have been reluctant to have another multinational company that came in and wanted it for the advertisement but would want the control.” Ratcliffe had previously considered a buy-out of Chelsea and last year invested £110m in Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team, a relationship that raised eyebrows given Ineos’s status as one of the world’s largest producers of plastics. The company’s move into professional cycling is equally likely to ruffle feathers, both due to its wealth and within a sport that is becoming increasingly aware of its environmental impact. Brailsford, however, appears to have shed the eco-evangelism of Team Sky’s 2018 Ocean Rescue campaign, which included a whale logo on the riders’ jerseys during the Tour de France, accompanied by the hashtag #passonplastic.

Brailsford has 12 riders under contract for next season, including Thomas, Froome, and Bernal, although all three were rumored to have been made offers by rival teams if a new sponsor had not to be found. “You’d hope that we’d find something,” said Thomas, the 2018 Tour winner, during Brailsford’s negotiations. “We are in the best position to; we are one of the best sports teams around, not just in cycling.” Sky unexpectedly announced the ending of their sponsorship last autumn and many believed it would be impossible to find a suitably wealthy backer to enable the team to continue. Recent and extensive negative coverage of Brailsford and the team, in the aftermath of stinging criticism from Ukad and the DCMS after the infamous “Jiffy Bag” investigation, was followed by the ongoing farce of the Dr. Richard Freeman medical tribunal into testosterone use, which was adjourned a fortnight ago. Those factors, allied to a tight timescale and an increasingly full sponsorship market within cycling, all appeared to be working against Brailsford.