Sky will end its involvement in cycling in 2019 after more than a decade of backing.
The decision will bring to a conclusion Sky’s ownership and sponsorship of Team Sky, which will continue to race if a new backer is secured by 2020.
The team will compete as Team Sky for the last time during the 2019 road racing season.
Team Sky Principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: “While Sky will be moving on at the end of next year, the team is open minded about the future and the potential of working with a new partner, should the right opportunity present itself.
“For now, I would like to thank all Team Sky riders and staff, past and present – and above all the fans who have supported us on this adventure.
“We aren’t finished yet by any means. There is another exciting year of racing ahead of us and we will be doing everything we can to deliver more Team Sky success in 2019.”
Team Sky have won 322 races including eight Grand Tours, 52 other stage races and 25 one-day races after starting their sponsorship in 2010.
Two years later Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France, with Chris Froome claiming the first of his four Tour titles in 2013.
He was the first rider in more than 30 years to hold all three Grand Tour winners’ jerseys at the same time.
In the summer Geraint Thomas became the third Team Sky rider – as well as the third Briton – to win the Tour de France, the team’s sixth success at the race in seven years.
Bicycles and cars essentially share the same purpose – getting you from point A to point B.
Yet they are at the same time two vastly different modes of transportation; one is more practical, the other more stylish. You tend to own a bike before upgrading to a car.
And you could forgive Alexander Kristoff for looking at UAE Team Emirates’ acquisition of the supremely talented Fernando Gaviria in similar fashion – the aging veteran being traded in for a younger, faster model.
But Kristoff doesn’t see it like this. He is only looking at the bigger picture and believes the two sprinters can work in tandem and that the addition of the speedy Colombian will accelerate UAE Team Emirates’ vision of becoming one of the most elite teams in professional cycling.
“In Gavaria we have signed one of the future stars of the sprinting arena,” Kristoff told Sport360 at a UAE Team Emirates training camp in the UAE at the end of October.
Por los próximos 3 años estaré defendiendo una nueva camiseta en las carreras. Pero sigo queriendo lo mismo, ganar lo máximo posible. Gracias a UAE por confiar en mí. Ahora aprovechando para visitar lugares magníficos, en Dubái 👌🏻😬 pic.twitter.com/jMzqGcQN6C— Fernando Gaviria (@FndoGaviria) 29 October 2018
“It’s challenging in a good way. It will be good to see what he’s doing and also how I can improve.
“Fernando showed this year he is a faster sprinter than me. I’m not just a sprinter, I can do other races, he’s a more pure sprinter, but he’s also shown he can do the Classics and it’s also good for the team to have sprinters in every race so we can fight for more wins.”
Both men won stages at this year’s Tour de France. Kristoff, 31, claimed victory on the iconic, largely processional final Stage 21 stroll into Paris along the Champs-Elysees. Gaviria, seven years his junior, impressively tasted victory on Stage 1 and 4 on his Tour debut.
Last year UAE Team Emirates unveiled Kristoff, fellow 2018 Tour stage winner Dan Martin and 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion Fabio Aru as new riders. And with Gaviria now being joined by compatriot Sergio Henao – the 2017 Paris-Nice champion – from Team Sky, Kristoff sees the additions as another step in the right direction to bridging the gap to the likes of pro cycling giants like Team Sky, Movistar and Quick-Step Floors.
“You saw already this year, he won two stages in the Tour and wore the yellow jersey in his first Tour de France,” added the Norwegian.
“I think he will have a bright future ahead of him and I look forward to working with him, because now there’s maybe one guy faster than me on the team.”
Gaviria is certainly seen as one of cycling’s bright hopes. A year ago, Belgian-based Quick-Step allowed 19-time Grand Tour stage winner Marcel Kittel to leave for Katusha-Alpecin, such was their faith in the 24-year-old.
In three successful seasons at Quick-Step since turning professional, Gaviria won six Grand Tour stages including four at the 2017 Giro d’Italia – where he won the points title – and his two at this year’s Tour.
Gaviria formed a productive two-pronged sprinting attack alongside Elia Viviani – winner of this year’s Dubai Tour in his debut campaign with Quick-Step.
Now, UAE Team Emirates possess two of their own stellar sprinters and Kristoff can only see good things ahead for a team who’ve just completed their second season at the elite level.
“This year we started many races without a sprinter and then you lose good results,” said the man who spent his debut season with the team decked in white from his 2017 European road race victory.
“Normally all the top teams have two sprinters like Quick-Step, who have three or four, Viviani and Gaviria. They both had great seasons and I hope we will have the same situation next year.”
Kristoff has no idea what the plans for both men will be in 2019. But having featured at the Tour for the last six years, he is hoping his season might include a return to the Giro or even a first appearance at the Vuelta.
“We must plan what Fernando is doing then we will set up my season and fit it in with him,” he went on.
“The Tour I’ve done many years now and I’ve not done the Giro or Vuelta. I’ve never done the Vuelta and the Giro not since 2012 so maybe that will be an option and he (Gaviria) wants to focus on the Tour. But we will see what the team has in store.”
Simply put, Kristoff wants more opportunities to win races. Signing the likes of Gaviria makes that eminently more possible. So he’s all for it.
The Team Camp comes to and end with the visit at the top of the Burji Khalifa 🌇!— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) 29 October 2018
A stunning view from 829 metres over Dubai and its amazing buildings 🇦🇪 #UAETeamEmirates #Picsoftheday pic.twitter.com/79zhVHxBDW
“The team, our relationships within the team are very good. You have a good group of riders going well together and we feel settled,” he said.
“Our 2018 results were not as good as we hoped considering the riders we have. We still need to work on something. We’ve also changed a lot the staff, trainers and doctors, and it feels from the few days that we met the new guys, more professional.
“And you need to work professionally with every aspect of the sport. That means nutrition, recovery, training, treatment. Small details. We missed a few details this year and I think you can see that in the results.”
UAE Team Emirates were formed out of the ashes of Lampre-Merida in December 2016 – with many of the historic Italian team’s roster remaining in place over the last two seasons.
With the crucial additions of Kristoff, Martin and Aru, they have slowly begun to form their own identity, finishing 12th of 18 teams on the UCI’s WorldTour in both 2017 and 2018.
But they have ambitions to climb higher. And Kristoff believes that will come to fruition in the next few years.
“We’re going in a good direction with the new internationals. Last season we still had a lot of the Lampre riders, which was not bad but I think we are taking another step forward, to be more professional, more modern, an international team, which is the best way forward,” he added.
“All the best teams are very international. For us we are spending a bit more step by step and I think, if not next year, but in a few years we will be one of the leading teams.”
The Oslo native is his harshest critic and despite a phenomenal win in Paris at the end of July, he described his debut campaign with his new team as “average”.
“I had five victories last year (including winning the opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour) and normally I’m around 10 so it was half of what I’m used to,” said Kristoff, who claims his performance on the final day in France saved his season.
“Then again I had three WorldTour wins and others had less so we also did not so many smaller races and that makes it harder to win races.
“We focus mainly on the big races so when you get a win it’s a good win. So when you consider this, I had a kind of good season.
“But I was not super happy with my performance until the Tour. Dan (Martin) won a stage (UAE Team Emirates’ maiden Tour triumph), I won a stage.
“I think in general we did a very good Tour and I kind of saved my season with the stage win at the Champs-Elysees. Without this I would not be very happy but when I got this win, that I dreamt of for so many years, then I must say I was happy.”
Registration is now open for the inaugural UAE Tour, a seven-stage WorldTour race that starts in Abu Dhabi and ends in Dubai early next year.
The event replaces the Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour which have been held since 2015 and 2014 respectively.
The new event combines the two events and will see the myriad of pro riders take in all seven Emirates from February 24 to March 2, 2019.
But amateur cyclists can also follow in the footsteps of their favourite riders and compete on the same stretches of roads thanks to the UAE Tour Challenge, a new formula developed from the successful Abu Dhabi Tour Challenge.
The UAE Tour Challenge consists of four races, across which male and female amateur racers contest different jerseys for time and points races.
The UAE Tour Challenge’s first race will be held in Abu Dhabi, at Al Hudayriat Island – the new leisure and entertainment destination which offers two different cycle path loops of 5km and 10km. The 16km Individual Time Trial (ITT) is scheduled here for Friday, January 25.
The second race is planned for the following week, Friday, February 1, in Al Ain and surrounding area.
The course is a tribute to the classic Abu Dhabi Tour “Queen stage” with the finish line at 1,025m above sea level after 11km of climbing featuring maximum gradients of 11 per cent on Jebel Hafeet. There is a choice of two distances: 47km and 67km.
The third race, on Wednesday, February 13, returns to Dubai and the fourth, on Friday, March 1, is hosted entirely by Ras Al Khaimah. Both the courses are still top secret and will be unveiled soon.
Just like the pros, the amateur racers will compete in three different classifications: by time, points and UAE national category by time.
Each classification leader will wear a special jersey – red jersey for time, green for points and white for the UAE national category.
Additionally, for each challenge, there is a special classification that awards 15 seconds (for the classifications by time) or three points (for the classification by points) for the best male and female performances on a particular section.
For the Al Hudayriat Island ITT, it will be awarded for the best time on the final kilometre straight. During the second race (Jebel Hafeet), it’s the best Intermediate sprint after the first three laps before the climb.
For the third and fourth races, the additional points and seconds will be defined in the following weeks.
At the end of every race, the best three men and women of each classification will be awarded: best time, special classification, the best time of each age category, and best time UAE national category.
The final winners by time, points and UAE nationality classification will be also awarded on Saturday, March 2, the final day of the UAE Tour, on the stage at Dubai’s City Walk.
Keen cyclists are welcome to register for all four races of the UAE Tour Challenge online on the official site www.theuaetour.com. More information is also available on Facebook (uaetourofficial), Instagram (uaetourofficial) and Strava (www.strava.com/clubs/theuaetour)