Froome chases Tour spot af­ter agree­ing Ineos exit

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - cy­cling cor­re­spon­dent By Tom Cary

Chris Froome will leave Team Ineos for Is­rael Start-Up Na­tion at the end of the year, it has been con­firmed. The end of one of the most suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships in cy­cling his­tory raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the rider’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in next month’s Tour de France.

Froome (right) has been with Ineos since the team’s in­cep­tion, as Team Sky, more than a decade ago. He has racked up seven grand tour ti­tles, in­clud­ing four Tour crowns, mak­ing him one of the most suc­cess­ful grand tour rid­ers.

But the 35-year-old had been strongly linked with a move away in re­cent months. Froome, who is in the fi­nal year of his con­tract, is des­per­ate to win a record-equalling fifth Tour, and is adamant that he is phys­i­cally ca­pa­ble of do­ing so fol­low­ing a ca­reer-threat­en­ing crash 12 months ago.

How­ever, with Egan Ber­nal and Geraint Thomas, the past two win­ners of the Tour, also on Ineos’s books, the Bri­tish team have three po­ten­tial lead­ers, and there was no

way Froome was go­ing to be given sole lead­er­ship this year. Ber­nal is very much seen as the ris­ing star.

That was one of the rea­sons Froome was ru­moured to be con­sid­er­ing a rare mid-sea­son switch, with Is­rael un­der­stood to have of­fered him a three-year deal, match­ing his £5 mil­lion an­nual salary and guar­an­tee­ing him sole Tour lead­er­ship this year.

In the end, that did not hap­pen. Any mid-sea­son move would have needed the bless­ing of Sir Dave Brails­ford, the Ineos team prin­ci­pal, and that was not forth­com­ing.

Froome has no choice, there­fore, but to knuckle down and try to win his Tour place with Team Ineos next month.

Froome said in a team state­ment yes­ter­day that win­ning a fifth ti­tle re­mained his fo­cus for 2020. He is part of the Ineos climb­ing group head­ing to Tener­ife for two weeks of al­ti­tude train­ing to­mor­row. His se­lec­tion for the Tour, which starts in Nice on Aug 29, is by no means guar­an­teed, how­ever, and for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. First, it re­mains to be seen whether all the re­cent ma­noeu­vring has re­opened trust is­sues be­tween rider and team. Froome was ini­tially in dis­cus­sions with Ineos over an ex­ten­sion be­fore he be­gan talk­ing to other teams. It is un­der­stood Ineos never tabled a counter-of­fer.

Sec­ond, will Ineos trust Froome not to put him­self be­fore the team in Septem­ber, know­ing how des­per­ate he is to win that fifth ti­tle and that he is off at the end of the year?

Third, from a tac­ti­cal point of view, there is the ques­tion of whether Ineos will want to go with a three-pronged ap­proach. With eight-man teams, some feel that could be un­wise.

Fi­nally, there is the ques­tion of form. Froome has not raced in anger since his ac­ci­dent.

A fi­nal de­ci­sion is still some way off, with the sea­son only set to re­sume next month. But it adds to the in­trigue.

“It has been a phe­nom­e­nal decade with the team,” Froome said in the state­ment. “We have achieved so much to­gether and I will al­ways trea­sure the mem­o­ries. I look for­ward to ex­cit­ing new chal­lenges as move into the next phase of my ca­reer, but in the mean­time my fo­cus is on win­ning a fifth Tour de France with Team Ineos.”

Brails­ford added: “Chris has been with us from the start. He is a great cham­pion and we have shared many mem­o­rable mo­ments, but I do be­lieve this is the right de­ci­sion for the team and for Chris. He is un­der­stand­ably keen to have sole team lead­er­ship in the next chap­ter of his ca­reer, which is not some­thing we are able to guar­an­tee.”

Is­rael Start-Up Na­tion, co-owned by real-es­tate bil­lion­aire Syl­van Adams, have gone from be­ing a Con­ti­nen­tal team to the World­Tour in just five years. They are likely to spend big over the win­ter to add more depth to their squad, and they will need to if Froome is to have any hope of win­ning fur­ther grand tours with them.

“We hope to make his­tory to­gether as Chris pur­sues fur­ther Tour de France and grand tour vic­to­ries, achieve­ments that would make a se­ri­ous case for Chris to be con­sid­ered the great­est cy­clist of all time,” Adams said.

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