A new professional road cycling team has been launched, with the aim of producing the first British Tour de France winner within five years.
Team Sky is the result of a multi-million-pound, four-year deal between British Cycling and broadcasters BSkyB. The plan is that the squad will contest the Tour Down Under when they start racing in 2010, with the hope of earning a wildcard entry to the Tour de France. The riders will also compete in the Tour of Britain.
Team manager and Great Britain Olympic performance director Dave Brailsford spoke to Cyclingnews before the official launch. He said: "Having a British team on the continent has been talked about for a number of years as a natural evolution to our Olympic track program but over the past 12 months it's really gained momentum, to the point where we can confirm that the whole project is going ahead."
With several potential riders still under contract with their respective teams, Brailsford was reluctant to disclose the roster, but he did confirm that non-British riders would be part of the setup. "I can't go into the names of staff or riders at this time. I know there's a lot of speculation but we can't go further than that at the moment," he said.
"There will be a core of British riders but the team will not just include home-grown talent. We'll need international riders and I don't ever envisage us having only British riders, but at the heart of the team will be a very British ethos: a British HQ, British staff and a British core."
An initial squad of about 25 riders will be recruited this year. They will be supported by a team of coaches, technicians and support staff from across the sport.
"It's a four-year deal and with the budget we have it's sufficient to be competing at the highest level of the sport right from the start," said Brailsford. "The Tour de France is something we want to do to, but we can't get an automatic invite. At this stage it will have to be as a wild card entry. We want to perform straight away but we also want to support the current crop of riders and help the next generation break through too."
The move from British Cycling comes on the back of the unprecedented success Team GB had at the Olympic Games in
"Team Sky will only enhance British prospects, with riders, and especially up-and-coming talent, benefiting from a pro team setup that gives them the best training and support in an environment that will help them to develop. The team is a natural evolution for the Olympic programme as the quantity and calibre of British riders continues to grow."
As for the partnership with Sky, Brailsford said: "They're investing in cycling anyway and with this project they're going to be part of a very important legacy within British sport. At the same time, they also want to inspire broad participation in the country. They're an ideal partner that goes hand-in-hand with our plans."
Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch has been impressed by Brailsford's work with the track squad. "Sky has a core belief in the power of sport – we want to get people involved. We are hugely impressed by Dave Brailsford, inspired by the success of British riders and excited about embarking upon this ambitious project together," he said.
"Sky is already the principal partner for British Cycling, supports the Youth Sport Trust through Sky Sports Living for Sport and invests heavily in British sport. Team Sky builds on this and will inspire people of all ages and abilities to get out and ride, for fun, for fitness, and for the environment."