TEAM SKY: THE END OF AN ERA
By Oscar Smith
Love them or hate them, Team Sky have been a force to be reckoned with for almost a decade in the world of professional cycling. Founded in 2009, the team have since clocked up hundreds of wins, in Grand Tours, Classics, One Day Races, Criteriums, Time Trials; you name it, a team Sky rider has won it.
It’s philosophy of ‘marginal gains’ meant that the team invested in all of the best equipment and practises in order to make sometimes minute savings out on the road. Cutting-edge carbon fibre Pinarellos, tailor-made skinsuits and hours spent honing positions in the wind tunnel. In addition to this, their flashy Jaguar team cars and their high-tech team bus, dubbed ‘The Death Star’, drew envious glances from the rest of the peloton.
When Sky was conceived in 2009, one of its key goals was to win ‘Le Tour de France’ with a British rider within 5 years. For all professional riders and teams, the tour is the pinnacle of cycling, just to win a stage of it can ‘make’ a rider’s career. Bradley Wiggins’ classy overall victory in 2012 was all the more surprising, considering the fact that since ‘Le Tour’ was first raced in 1903, a British rider had never worn the coveted ‘maillot jaune’ all the way to Paris. On top of this, a young Chris Froome also took to the podium in second place. The team had already exceeded any expectations. Yet, Froome would go on to win 4 more Tour de Frances, the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’ Italia. The team would also win another Tour in 2018 with the ‘flying Welshman’ Geraint Thomas. Arguably, Team Sky has been the most successful cycling team ever.
Yet, the team has faced its fair share of criticism over the years. Many fans dislike the team’s style of riding. Repetitive, boring, monotonous, these are all words that have been used by critics to describe their riding style. Many argue that with their extremely talented roster of riders controlling the race, it is incredibly stifling and prevents any exciting racing from taking place. The team also have the largest budget in the professional peloton. In 2016 Sky had an estimated budget of $35 million, whilst teams like Fortuneo Vital Concept ran on a (relatively) shoestring budget of just $3.5 million. With Sky having 10 times as much money as some of the smaller teams in the peloton, it is easy to see why they have such a talented group of riders. Some argue that this huge disparity is unfair and doesn’t allow for fair competition.
Unfortunately, the taboo subject of doping also reared its ugly head at several points during the team’s history. Both the ‘jiffy bag’ debacle surrounding Bradley Wiggins and the ‘Salbutamol Saga’ involving Chris Froome were damaging for the team’s reputation, especially considering they had a zero-tolerance policy towards doping, despite the fact that neither Wiggins nor Froome were ever found guilty of any wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, the team has had several incredible moments. 2018 was arguably the team’s best year. Chris Froome won the Giro D'Italia after stunning solo victories both atop the iconic Monte Zoncolan and the Monte Jafferau and Geraint Thomas became the first Welshman to win the Tour de France following incredible back to back victories at La Rosiere and on the Alpe d’Huez.
It was, therefore a huge shock when Sky announced that they would be ending their sponsorship of the team after the 2019 racing season. After over 300 victories and around £180 million of funding, the TV giant's partnership with the cycling team will soon come to an end. The team bosses maintain that they are still open to working with a new sponsor. Whatever your opinion of Team Sky, it is safe to say that the team will be sorely missed within the cycling community.