Team Sky: Sir Dave Brailsford urged to start new women's team under Team Ineos banner
Team Sky’s transformation into Team Ineos was confirmed on Tuesday and cycling’s richest outfit will be formally launched at the Tour de Yorkshire in May.
But Brailsford’s partnership with the petrochemicals firm run by British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has been criticised by Friends of the Earth as “a blatant attempt at green-washing”.
The environmental group pointed out that the team will go from promoting Sky’s corporate campaign to clear the oceans of plastic last year, to wearing the logo of one of Europe’s biggest manufacturers of plastics this year.
Ineos is also a major player in the UK’s nascent fracking industry, the practice of blasting liquid at underground rock in order to release natural gas which has been blamed for earth tremors and pollution.
The company is even planning to start fracking in Yorkshire, which is likely to mean there will be protesters at the team’s big launch.
And then there is the continuing controversy surrounding Brailsford and Team Sky itself related to a 2018 parliamentary report that said they had not lived up to their promise to be champions for clean cycling, a UK Anti-Doping investigation into deliveries of mysterious drugs and the ongoing tribunal involving former team doctor Richard Freeman.
While Ratcliffe is also a contentious figure to some, as he is a well-known Brexiteer who moved his company’s headquarters from the UK to Switzerland, for tax purposes, and lives in Monaco.
But ex-UCI boss Cookson, who also helped set up Team Sky when he was president of British Cycling, said there is an easy way for Brailsford and Ratcliffe to change the narrative: start a women’s team.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, Cookson said: “It’s a really good time to take that step and they should be able to apply the same strategies in women’s cycling that have brought them so much success with the men.
“Under Sky’s umbrella, they never did it and that was a great frustration to me. Who knows? They might be planning to do it. But if they are not, I would urge them to do so.
“It’s obviously the right thing to do and I cannot think of anything else they could do that would address the criticism they have faced – much of it unfair, in my view – and give them a more positive image.”
Ineos has not responded to PA Sport’s question of if a women’s team is on the cards, while Team Sky said they are not going into any further details about the team until closer to the unveiling.
But a senior figure in the British cycling scene, who wished to remain anonymous, told PA Sport that “finally launching a women’s team is a no-brainer, otherwise they might end up only talking about Freeman and fracking in Yorkshire.”
Others, however, were willing to go on the record, with Nicola Cranmer, the general manager of the US-based Sho-Air Twenty20 women’s team, saying: “This is their opportunity to surpass the incumbent organisations that refuse to back women’s cycling – it would be the right thing to do.”
And Stefan Wyman, the sports director and manager of the British-based Matrix Fitness Pro Cycling Team, said: “There hasn’t been a better time to launch a women’s team. The structure is almost there and there remains an easy entry point for teams to enter in the top five like (bike manufacturer) Trek have just done.”
But a leading British cycling agent said “the best thing Ineos could do from a PR perspective is set up a women’s team but there are very few people in Team Sky’s senior management who want to do it, so you wonder if it would work without that commitment.”
What they all agree on, though, is that a women’s Team Ineos could be as successful as their male counterparts Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas for £2-3million a year, less than a tenth of Team Sky’s current budget, which many expect Ratcliffe to raise.