LINTON, England (Reuters) - Four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome rode his bike into a picturesque Yorkshire village on Wednesday saying it felt like a “new beginning” as Team Sky officially became Team INEOS.
The 33-year-old Briton admits there were concerns rather than panic when broadcaster Sky announced last year it was ending its 10-year financing of a team set up by Dave Brailsford and which helped him become one of the greatest riders in cycling history.
Yet Britain’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe rode to the rescue with INEOS, the company he founded and has turned into one of the world’s largest chemical producers, taking control with a funding package worth 120 million pounds ($157.19 million) over three years.
Froome said with INEOS’s investment he would be pushing harder for cycling’s biggest prizes, starting with a record-equalling fifth Tour de France later this year.
“We will be pushing harder and trying to stay at the top,” Froome, donning the team’s new dark red and black kit, told reporters outside the village pub in Linton that doubled as a venue for the official launch of Team INEOS on Wednesday.
“It’s a new beginning and feels strange after 10 years saying Team Sky. It feels new and exciting.
“I’m working hard to win a fifth Tour de France and if I can do that with INEOS that would be incredible. That’s not been done for two decades.”
This year’s Tour will see both Froome and reigning champion Geraint Thomas vying for the yellow jersey as team mates, but Froome says that will only be a problem for their rivals.
“It’s more of a concern for them,” said Froome, who won last year’s Giro while under a cloud following an adverse analytical finding for asthma medication salbutamol from the 2017 Vuelta de Espana that he also won.
“We have always gone to Grand Tours with options to play and last year I was extremely grateful we had Geraint to step up.
“I come off winning the Giro and I wasn’t at my best for the Tour. I was running on fumes. Luckily Geraint was there to step up otherwise it wouldn’t have been a Team Sky victory it would have gone to Tom Dumoulin.
“The dynamic between Geraint and myself is good. Hopefully one of us will be standing on the top step in Paris.”
Froome and his team mates will get a raucous welcome around the four hilly stages of the Tour of Yorkshire, which starts on Thursday and will be Team INEOS’s first race.
However, protests are expected over INEOS’s links to fracking operations and its plastics businesses. [nL3N22D1R1]
The Kenyan-born rider said those criticising INEOS’s move into cycling were guilty of double standards.
“Unless you are going to ask every anchorman on every news channel about the people who pay for advertising on their shows, then there is definitely a double standard there,” he said.
“If you are going to ask so much of certain sportspeople and not others, especially when there are already energy companies within the peloton and not a word was said to those teams or those riders then I don’t think it is fair.”
Team Sky were high-profile backers of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign aimed at reducing single-use plastic.
Froome said that work would continue.
“We are working as hard as possible as a cycling team to reduce the amount of plastic we use,” he said. “That campaign will only grow in the future with us.”
($1 = 0.7634 pounds)
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis