Chris Froome to leave Team Ineos at end of season


London (AFP)

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome will leave Team Ineos at the end of the season, the cycling outfit announced on Thursday, with reports saying he is joining Israel Start-Up Nation.

Froome, Britain's most successful rider, won the Tour de France four times in five years from 2013 in the colours of Team Sky, which last year became Team Ineos.

Team Ineos boss Dave Brailsford hailed Froome as a "great champion" but said it was the right time to part ways.

He said Froome was keen to have sole team leadership but Team Ineos, with fellow Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal in its ranks, was unable to give that guarantee.

"Chris's current contract comes to an end in December and we have taken the decision now not to renew it," Brailsford said.

"We are making this announcement earlier than would usually be the case to put an end to recent speculation and allow the team to focus on the season ahead."

Froome, 35, said: "It has been a phenomenal decade with the team. We have achieved so much together and I will always treasure the memories.

"I look forward to exciting new challenges as I 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."

- Injury -

Froome was seriously injured when he crashed at the Criterium de Dauphine in June 2019 and spent months in rehabilition, missing that year's Tour de France.

After winning the Vuelta a Espana in 2017 and the Giro d'Italia in 2018 Froome held all three Grand Tours but his star has since waned.

Froome's teammate Thomas emerged as the 2018 winner of the Tour de France while Colombian protege Bernal claimed the 2019 title.

He only returned fully to the saddle in February this year at the UAE Tour, which was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Froome wants to win a fifth Tour de France crown to equal the record held by Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain.

The postponed tour is set to be raced from August 29 to September 20.

Deep-pocketed Team Sky, backed by Rupert Murdoch's media empire, were known for Brailsford's meticulous and innovative application of "marginal gains", the theory that many small advantages in areas as diverse as wind resistance, diet and sleep quality can add up to a significant improvement in performance.

However, their image was clouded in controversy over so-called therapeutic use exemptions, after a damning British parliamentary report said the team crossed an "ethical line" by using the loophole to administer drugs to enhance performance.

Sky were caught in a long-running doping controversy that began when Froome returned an adverse doping test, for elevated levels of the asthma medication salbutamol, on his way to victory in the Vuelta a Espana in 2017. He was cleared 10 months later.

Froome said that during the 2015 Tour de France a cup of urine was thrown at him following accusations he was doping. He has always maintained he is a clean rider.

Team Ineos also have plenty of detractors within cycling for tactics that many believe stifle racing.

Their superior budget allowed them to employ riders who would be leaders elsewhere in a support capacity and effectively shut down attacks in the biggest races, something that has proved unpopular with many, particularly in the Tour de France.