Chris Froome and Team Ineos remained tight-lipped on Thursday over speculation that the four-time Tour de France winner may be moving to a rival team before this year’s race, in order to ensure leadership status.
With his Team Ineos contract expiring at the end of 2020, Froome was reported by cyclingnews.com to be “in discussions” over a mid-season transfer, possibly by early August. The 2020 Tour de France is scheduled to start in Nice on 29 August.
In a statement Froome hinted at having possibly won his last Grand Tour with a Dave Brailsford-run team by saying: “I am extremely confident that I can return to Tour winning form. Which team that will be with, beyond 2020, I don’t know yet.”
Both Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, Tour champions in 2018 and 2019 respectively, have recently asserted their claims as the Ineos team’s Tour leaders while Froome, who missed the 2019 Tour after crashing in June and undergoing extensive and lengthy rehabilitation, is also desperate to return to top form. He has not won a Grand Tour since the 2018 Giro d’Italia and has not won a major race for two years.
“I have no intention of retiring any time soon,” Froome told cyclingnews.com. “If anything, the crash has given me a renewed focus and drive. I have worked harder than I ever have to get back to where I am. I won’t let that be for nothing.”
Internal rivalries with fellow Grand Tour champions Thomas, Bernal and the 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz have been brewing and cycling’s transfer market growing fraught as sponsors struggle to fend off the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Froome, 35 in a few days, may be seeking one last big-money move before the market becomes even more pinched.
However, in a fast-shrinking marketplace beset by financial paranoia, Froome may have few viable options. Leading the field for his signature will be the Bahrain-McLaren team, now run by the former Team Sky coach Rod Ellingworth and headed by his former Sky teammates Mark Cavendish, Mikel Landa and Wout Poels.
The Spanish Movistar team – having shed Landa, Carapaz and Grand Tour winner Nairo Quintana – is also in need of a big-name rider capable of landing a Tour de France win and may have the estimated £4m a year capable of securing Froome.
But most World Tour teams contacted by the Guardian were dismissive of the possibility of signing Froome. “Our transfer activity is parked,” said one, while another said: “Who has millions lying around now?”
Tensions between Thomas, Bernal and Froome over Team Ineos’s Tour leadership appear to have been growing during the lockdown as the team’s riders, training in isolation, waited for the racing calendar to resume and for a confirmed date for this year’s Tour de France.
In late April, Froome said that if he won a fifth Tour this summer it would be “massive”, and that it would be “one of the biggest comeback stories in sport”.
Bernal’s comments a few days later may have accelerated Froome’s need for clarity over team leadership. The Colombian, more than a decade Froome’s junior, said that he would not “throw away an opportunity to win another Tour de France, that’s for sure”.
“That I would sacrifice myself, being at 100%,” Bernal said. “I don’t think I’m going to do that, nor will he (Froome) – nor will anyone.”
Froome’s recognition of the rapidly growing financial crisis which has led to redundancies and pay cuts at the very highest level of the sport, may also have forced his hand. According to the UCI president David Lappartient: “Three, four, five teams have more problems than others. We hope they all reach the end of the season.”
The Guardian contacted Team Ineos for comment but has yet to receive a response.