Team Sky: A Story Of Cycling Dominance

Team Sky: British Cycling’s all-star supergroup, and the dominant cycling team in the world in the 2010s.

What’s the story behind this team’s rapid climb to the top? And how did they launch British riders into Tour de France wins again and again?

In this article, we’ll be telling the story of Team Sky and its successors, covering:

  • Forming A World Class Team
  • Team Sky, Team Ineos, And The Ineos Grenadiers Cheat Sheet
  • 2010-2012: The First British Tour Winner
  • Dominance And Doping Allegations: Team Sky After 2012
  • The End Of Team Sky: Team Ineos Is Born
  • Beyond Froome: The Ineos Grenadiers

Let’s dive in!

Team Sky: Title Image
Credit: Filip BossuytCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Edited from the original.

Forming A World Class Team

Team Sky was born at an exciting time in British cycling: Team GB had taken 14 cycling medals at the Beijing Games, and with London 2012 on the horizon, the future looked bright.

British Cycling’s Olympic training program at the National Cycling Centre was headed by coach Dave Brailsford based on the concept of marginal gains.

At this time, Sky UK was looking to sponsor a new sports team; Sky UK chairman and cycling enthusiast James Murdock envisioned something special: forming a corporate-funded professional team, built around Brailsford’s coaching and roster of world-class British athletes.

The team and its yearly sponsorship of €15 million were announced in 2009, with Brailsford as General Manager.

Team Sky announced a hardline no-doping policy from the start.

Just as Team GB aimed to win gold medals, Team Sky’s primary stated aim was for a British rider to win the Tour de France in the next five years.

The original roster was built around Olympic stars Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, plus other British cyclists and international signees.

What followed is a shocking and dramatic story of a rapid climb to the top for the fledgling team.

Team Sky, Team Grenadiers, And Ineos Grenadiers Cheat Sheet

As a primer for Team Sky’s story, here’s a quick rundown of Team Sky’s wins – the dominant UCI World team of the 2010s.

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 12 Grand Tour Wins, including 7 Tour de France wins.
  • 7 Critérium du Dauphiné wins.
  • 6 Paris-Nice wins.
  • 28 total stage race wins.
  • Top UCI World Tour Team in 2012 and 2017.
  • Three BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards for team members, (Mark Cavendish in 2011, Bradley Wiggins in 2012, and Geraint Thomas in 2018.)
  • Numerous OBE appointments in the team, and a knighthood for Bradley Wiggins.

2010-2012: The First British Tour Winner

It is something of a gripe in cycling that when talking about professionals we tend to fixate on the Grand Tours, especially on the Tour de France.

But major stage races were always Team Sky’s focus.

2010 – Team Sky’s first season – was a disappointment.

Bradley Wiggins briefly wore the leader’s jersey at the Giro d’Italia, and while Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France’s White Jersey, they underperformed in the General Classification.

2011 was slightly better for the team whose eyes were on the Grand Tours.

Chris Froome and Wiggins finished second and third at the Vuelta a España, behind Juan José Cobo.

However, Wiggins crashed out of the Tour that year, badly. With their bid for the GC off the table, the team spent the remainder of the Tour targeting individual stage wins.

Another disappointing season.

Interestingly, José Cobo was later retroactively disqualified from the Vuelta due to evidence of cheating, making Froome the first-ever British winner of a Grand Tour.

2012 was the year for Team Sky, and for Team GB.

After a few promising results early in the season, Wiggins won the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, and the Dauphiné. Le Tour was next on the agenda.

Bradley Wiggins was a favorite to win: the time trialist was well suited to 2012’s parcours, and with three stage wins already under his belt, he was Team Sky’s GC contender.

With the team squarely focused on supporting his bid, Wiggins wore yellow from Stage 7 all the way to the Champs-Élysées, with Froome placing second.

The culmination of Brailsford’s work: Team Sky’s pipe dream for a British rider to win the Tour de France within five years had been achieved in just three.

A month later, Wiggins, Froome, and Geraint Thomas took medals as Team GB topped the cycling table at the London Olympic Games.

Before the 2012 season was finished, Team Sky topped the UCI World Tour Teams classification and took their 100th victory.

In short: 2012 was quite a year to be a British cycling fan.

But cycling was about to be rocked to its foundation.

In 2012 the USADA published its Reasoned Decision outlining the banning of Lance Armstrong for doping offenses. The effects were far-reaching.

Dominance And Doping Allegations: Team Sky After 2012

In the aftermath of Armstrong’s fall from grace, Team Sky’s no-doping policy was more important than ever.

At the team, internal interviews were conducted into riders’ and coaches’ history with doping, in a subsequent “purge” some team officials left Team Sky.

No active Team Sky riders were affected, though Michael Barry, who had previously ridden for Team Sky, was given a suspension. Barry had already retired when it was handed out.

Back on the road it was Chris Froome’s turn to make history, winning Le Tour with the support of Wiggins and the rest of Team Sky.

Unfortunately, the climate in professional cycling was very different in 2013: fans and the media felt betrayed by Armstrong, and the mood was one of suspicion.

Team Sky was dominant in Le Tour, there was a certain amount of resentment, and some were convinced the team was cheating.

Froome fielded accusatory questions from the media: a British rider who had risen from relative obscurity to winning Le Tour in a few short years.

In 2014’s Critérium du Dauphiné Froome was intensely criticized for using an inhaler during the race.

Froome is asthmatic and therefore this was allowed, however, the rules were soon changed, and Team Sky would later face serious scrutiny over such “Therapeutic Use Exemptions” (TUEs).

The 2014 Tour de France was a bust for Team Sky, who entered fully committed to Froome’s GC bid, without Wiggins on the roster. Froome crashed out and left the team without options.

2015 was a different story: now Team Sky’s number one GC contender, Froome performed extremely well, winning his second Tour.

Again, the media suggested that there was something going on at Team Sky that the public didn’t know about.

This time Team Sky provided the USADA with all existing data they’d collected on Froome’s physiology to date for them to analyze – the organization didn’t raise any red flags.

Bradley Wiggins left the team after that season’s Paris–Roubaix, spending his final year training and riding for Team GB before retiring from cycling in 2016.

In 2016 Froome won his third Tour, Geraint Thomas won the Paris-Nice, and the team took their first Monument win with Wout Poels at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Froome, by this point arguably the greatest cyclist of his era, took his fourth Tour in 2017, as well as the Vuelta.

In 2018 Geraint Thomas won Le Tour and Froome took the Giro d’Italia.

Team Sky was undisputed as the greatest UCI World Tour team of the 2010s.

But the team who had once been the squeaky clean, no-doping hardliners, had become swamped with allegations and investigations.

In 2016 Russian hackers revealed Wiggins and Froome’s applications for Therapeutic Use Exemptions, showing that Wiggins used anti-inflammation steroids before his Tour win.

Wiggins defended himself as he suffers with severe allergies and asthma, however, the UK House of Commons later released a report claiming “ethical lines” had been crossed.

Team Sky then weathered two further investigations.

One looked into an infamous package delivered to Wiggins in the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné by the UKAD, while another examined irregularities detected in Froome’s blood during his winning 2017 Vuelta.

No wrongdoing was proven but in a maze of accusations and investigations, it was becoming increasingly difficult to believe in Team Sky.

The End Of Team Sky; Team Ineos Is Born

The writing was on the wall that something had to change, and resentment for Team Sky had begun to fester.

British Cycling was looking to distance itself, embroiled in scandals of its own.

British Cycling asked Team Sky to leave the National Cycling Centre in Manchester in 2017, and at the end of 2018 Sky withdrew its sponsorship for the team.

From the outside looking in it is impossible to know the full truth. No team is above suspicion.

However, the fact remains No Team Sky member has ever officially been found to be cheating (whilst riding for Team Sky).

In the wake of Sky’s departure, a few potential sponsors orbited the team, before Team Ineos was formed in partnership with the titular British chemical company.

The team’s roster underwent a change, many left the team whilst a cohort of new riders was signed, though Froome and Thomas stayed whilst Brailsford remains general manager.

The 2019 Tour De Romandie was Team Ineos’ first outing in a special black kit, whilst the team’s new colors were launched at the Tour de Yorkshire.

Beyond Froome: The Ineos Grenadiers

In 2020 the team was renamed the Ineos Grenadiers, in promotion of Ineos’ entry into the automotive world with the Grenadier four-by-four.

This brings us to today: what has been called the “post-Froome era” for the Ineos Grenadiers.

Beyond British Cycling and Team Sky’s muddied image, the Ineos Grenadiers compete as one of the UCI World Team’s “Big Four.”

In 2022, their first year without Froome the current roster performed strong, and The Ineos Grenadiers remain a world-class team.

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One of BikeTips' experienced cycling writers, Riley spends most of his time on a bike battling the hills of the Chilterns or winds of North Cornwall. Off the bike you're likely to find him writing about cycling or reading about everything else.

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